Lester B. Fillay, 61st Illinois writes of battle action he saw at Shiloh

Pittsburg [Landing], Tenn
Thursday night April 10,1862

My Dear Wife,

I [1] have just received yours of April 1st the first one I have had since I left St. Louis [2]. I have passed 5 as hard days as ever I saw. You have I suppose …this purch? An account of the Lesseba battle fought [3] at this place [4] last Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, it was the worst. ….I ever saw Thousands of bros lost and among them Brother Marshall [5] he fell after having fought from six AM til about Sunday 2 pm. He was shot in his left side above the rib bone I did not see Wm Roth Wilder and others saw him. He fought like a hero all day. He through down his gun un…………his cartridge box & fell face down I did not hear of it till that eve I could not get to him till Tuesday I then dug a grave wrapped him in blankets and buried him. James Gentry [6]was the only accuguntami? With me. It was an awful bad time for me and I cut off a lock of his hair and will send it in this letter. Doubtless you will have read this account of the terrible Battle before this comes to you. I will not relate particulars til I come home I will mention a few items David Culver [7] is mortally wounded Capt Haggard [8] was wounded and can’t be found. Also Capt Mann [9] there were 18 killed 30 missing and 43 wounded in our regiment. Old Man Holliday [10] is among the missing. Col Logan is very badly wounded I stayed one night with him shot in back. You will see the list before I shall. I wish you would have a paper till I come home I would like to see it. We expect hourly another big battle line[11]? They are not yet satisfied. This pecish??? Took everything we had they smashed my trunk I found my broom, hair brush and today I found you Bible out in the woods wet and ruined. I tell you it is a sad sight haere the field for five miles I guess is covered with dead The Camps? Boats & every place convenient is filled with the wounded & dying We have not begun to get the dead buried yet I am completely worn out I have not had a nights sleep this week 3 nights I was out in the rain I have had nothing but saw ham & hard crackers to eat I have seen enough of war if it was in my power I would leave for home tomorrow on foot If I live to see you there again I shall be a happy man I never shall enlist again Poor Marshall he was enjoying himself I believe up to his death I wish I could have got a coffin & sent him home but this was impossible He looked very natural I think he must have died instantly I could not find anything in his pocket but a letter from Jane? Longstreet I send it Tell Cora? I promised to write her this time but I felt to bad to write her such a letter as I wanted to ??? her & soon for me? How bad they will feel to hear of poor Macks death I must quit for tonight will write more in the morn if I can

Friday Morn 3 oclock AM

Our pickets have been driven again and the army are drawn up in line of Battle It is raining hard our poor soldiers are have a hard time. I don not have to go into battle but I believe it is worse to see the outside Kassons? We have just heard that Island Solo was taken If we beat them again nine or at Corinth? They will I think give up Wm Veddes would give anything if he was out of this but no one can leave we have to stay and take it Now? My dear I have thus writin you a nasty letter in pencil as our ink was destroyed by ??? My mind is in no condition to write I don’t know as I could say anything more in regard to Marshall’s death it was a sad a blow to me as any ever I had he was the only one here I could go to with my little troubles we met often after we got here He was very healthy It is strange that he should be the one selected but such is life It is strange to me how now anyone escaped Bale shell & bullets fell as thick as hail I can’t realize it all seems like a dream or ledger? Story Should we go into another battle here I don’t expect to come out as sound as I did this time for my turn must come with the rest.

Now wife keep up good cheer think and pray often for me I will do my best to come out safe and m???? back to see you. You don’t speak of getting the letters I wrote on the boat coming here Give my regards to all kiss The babies for me accept a??? a by one for yourself and much love Write twice a week Direct to Pittsburgh Landing via Cairo. ..in a day or so I will write just as often as I can. Write Wm & Caroline for me tell them I am yet alive. …

Kisses Good by, Lester

****************************

Notes:

1. The author of this letter is Lester B. Fillay. He was from Kane, Illinois. He mustered in Company D., on Feb 5th, 1862. Disch, May 2, 1864; disabil.

Kane Illinois was in Greene County, ILL. It had a population of 1,166 in 1860. At least 154 men, like Fillay, answered the call to fight in the Civil War.

The Sixty-first Infantry Illinois Volunteers was organized at Carrollton, Illinois, by Colonel Jacob Fry. Three full companies were mustered February 5, 1862. February 21, the Regiment, being still incomplete, moved to Benton Barracks, Missouri. Here a sufficient number of recruits joined to make nine full companies.

March 26, 1862, embarked for Pittsburg Landing. On arriving, March 30, were assigned to Brigade of Colonel Madison Miller, Eighteenth Missouri, Division of Brigadier General B. M. Prentiss.

During the Civil War, Benton Barracks was an encampment for Union troops and was located in north St. Louis County, 4-5 miles from the City of St. Louis. . “The facility, located on the outskirts of St. Louis, could accommodate 30,000 soldiers and contained a mile of barracks, warehouses, cavalry stables, parade grounds, and a large military hospital. The hospital itself could…serve 2,000 to 3,000 patients.”

Benton Barracks was situated on land once owned by John O’Fallon who rented the acreage to U.S. Army, and on the grounds of the old State fairgrounds. This area is now part of the City of St. Louis, in the location of Fairgrounds Park (at Grand Ave. and Natural Bridge Rd.) . Camp Benton, which began operations in 1861 had numerous functions: a troop cantonment (replacing Jefferson Barracks after it was converted to a hospital); a parole encampment; a military hospital; and a camp for contraband or refugee slaves. Refugee Unionist (whites) also found sanctuary here. There is also some evidence that a few Confederate guerilla POWs were housed here for a short duration, perhaps awaiting the sentence of execution, in the camp guardhouse.

2. Leander Stillwell, Company D, 61st Illinois says, “My company had made the trip from St. Louis to Pittsburg landing on the hurricane deck of the steamboat.”

Stillwell says the name of the steamer was the Empress. The 61st had been drilling at Benton Barracks, Missouri, from early February til March 25th when they left for Pittsburg Landing, arriving on March 31st.

3. Prentiss’s report…..
Col. Madison Miller, Eighteenth Missouri Infantry, was during the day in command of a brigade, and was among those taken prisoner. He acted during the day with distinguished courage, coolness, and ability. Upon Col. J. L. Geddes, Eighth Iowa, the same praise can be partly bestowed. He and his regiment stood unflinchingly up to the work the entire portion of the day during which he acted under my orders. Col. J. S. Alban and his lieutenant-colonel, Beall, of the Eighteenth Wisconsin, were, until they were wounded, ever to the front, encouraging their command. Col. Jacob Fry, of the Sixty-first Illinois, with an undrilled regiment fresh in the service, kept his men well forward under every assault until the third line was formed, when he became detached, and fought under General Hurlbut. Colonel Shaw, of the Fourteenth Iowa, behaved with great coolness, disposed his men sharply at every command, and maintained his front unbroken through several fierce attacks. Colonel Tindall, Lieutenant-Colonel Morton, and Major McCullough, of the Twenty-third Missouri, are entitled to high need of praise for gallant conduct.

http://www.civilwarhome.com/prentissshilohor.htm

4. April 6, 400 men were formed in line, in time to receive the first assault of the enemy, and stood their ground for an hour and a quarter, and until every other Regiment in the division had given way, and were then ordered to fall back. Upon retiring from this position, the Regiment was complimented by General Prentiss for its gallant stand. It was then ordered to support a battery of the first Missouri Artillery, and at one o’clock P. M. ordered to the support of General Hurlbut–coming to his support at a very critical moment, and maintaining his line until relieved by a fresh Regiment, and when its ammunition was entirely exhausted. When the second line was broken, the Regiment retired in good order and took a position supporting the siege guns.
Adjutant General’s Report

Another account
On the first day at Shiloh 400 men of the 61st were formed in line in time to receive the first assault of the enemy and they stood their ground for an hour and a quarter, until every other regiment in the division had given way, when they were ordered back. They were then ordered to support a battery of the 1st Mo. artillery, and at 1 P.M.. were ordered to the support of Gen. Hurlbut – coming to his support at a very critical moment, and maintaining his line until relieved by a fresh regiment, their ammunition being entirely exhausted. When the second line was broken the regiment retired in good order and took a position supporting the siege guns. Its loss in this engagement was 80 killed, wounded and missing, including 3 commissioned officers.

5. Marshall S. Corey
Residence Kane IL;
Enlisted on 12/27/1861 as a Private.
On 2/5/1862 he mustered into “E” Co. IL 61st Infantry
He was Killed on 4/6/1862 at Shiloh, TN

6. James A. Gentry
Residence Kane IL;
Enlisted on 1/17/1862 as a Private.
On 2/5/1862 he mustered into “E” Co. IL 61st Infantry
He died on 5/21/1864 at Little Rock, AR
Promotions: * Corpl

7. David G. Culver
Residence White Hall IL;
Enlisted on 2/5/1862 as a 1st Lieutenant.
On 2/5/1862 he was commissioned into “A” Co. IL 61st Infantry
He died of wounds on 4/14/1862 at Shiloh, TN

8. Robert E. Haggard
Residence Winchester IL;
Enlisted on 2/5/1862 as a 1st Lieutenant.
On 2/5/1862 he was commissioned into “F” Co. IL 61st Infantry
He Resigned on 4/2/1863

9. Martin J. Mann
Residence New Providence IL;
Enlisted on 2/5/1862 as a Captain.
On 2/5/1862 he was commissioned into “B” Co. IL 61st Infantry
He Resigned on 4/3/1863

10. Hiram Holliday
Residence Jerseyville IL;
Enlisted on 11/11/1861 as a Private.
On 2/5/1862 he mustered into “D” Co. IL 61st Infantry
He died of disease as POW on 8/14/1862 at Macon, GA
He was listed as:
* POW 4/6/1862 Shiloh, TN
* Confined 4/15/1862 Macon, GA (Estimated date)

11. Action in Spain’s Field (Woodworth’s description)
http://www.civilwargazette.com/csacw/tours/shiloh/spains_field_notes.htm
About the same time Peabody took up his first position along the low ridge overlooking Shiloh Branch, Col. Madison Miller, commanding Prentiss’s Second Brigade, began getting his troops into position in this small field belonging to a farmer named Peter Spain. At the time of the battle, the field extended farther to the north and east. Miller’s men were roughly in line with Peabody’s brigade, though not connected, and they were less than two hundred yards in front of the nearest of their own brigade’s camps, that of the 18th Missouri. Miller had the added asset of two batteries of artillery, but his infantry was even greener than Peabody’s. The 18th Wisconsin had arrived at Pittsburg Landing the afternoon before and marched out to join the brigade that evening. The 15th Michigan, arriving somewhat later, had camped closer to the landing and was only now marching up to join the brigade.

“We were drawn up in line of battle,” wrote Pvt. Edgar Embley of the 61st Illinois. “I was looking as anxious for the secesh [Rebels] as ever I did for a squirrel but I did not look long before I seen their guns glittering in the brush.” As the Confederate line moved through the forest less than a hundred yards in front of the 61st, Embley pointed them out to his captain. The shooting started at once. Embley was relieved to notice that the first Confederate volleys were aimed high and sailed harmlessly over the heads of his unit. Then the Rebels corrected their aim. “Dust flew around our feet,” recalled Embley, “the bark flew off the trees. We dropped on one knee and loaded & fired.” Prentiss was there, urging the men to fire low and take careful aim. Every Confederate they shot would leave one less to shoot at them. Though taking casualties, the 15th Michigan was not firing at all. Instead, they stood nervously but steadily in line, bayonets ready. They had not yet been issued any ammunition. Prentiss noticed their plight and ordered them to the rear to fill their cartridge boxes.

2 comments

  1. The correct spelling of his last name is Filley; the article reflects a common mis-spelling. I am his great-great-grandson.

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