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No. 2 FEBRUARY 2002

CIVIL WAR SOLDIER WILLIAM C. CALDWELL, 72ND O.V.I.


William C. Caldwell

William C. Caldwell

The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Manuscript Collections are particularly rich in the Civil War correspondence of Ohio soldiers who served in the western theater of the war. Featured below is a letter written by William C. Caldwell, son of William S. and Jane (Davis) Caldwell, who enlisted in the 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry as a hospital steward at the age of twenty-five. The letter is part of the much larger Caldwell Family Papers (Local History Collection 71). The Caldwell Family Papers contain not only the Civil War correspondence of William C. Caldwell, but also that of his brother, Robert H. Caldwell, who enlisted in the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was mortally wounded at the Battle of Stone's River. Dr. Caldwell eventually rose to the position of Assistant Surgeon of the 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He received his education from Oberlin College, the University of Michigan, Charity Hospital Medical College, and Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York. Following the war, Dr. Caldwell began his practice in Michigan, but returned to Fremont in 1880 where he lived the remainder of his life.

Battle of Shiloh

Caldwell's letter describes the horrors of the Battle of Shiloh (April 6 and 7 1862), the Civil War's first great, bloody battle. The two-day conflict's 24,000 casualties equaled that of all of America's previous wars. Union General Ulysses S. Grant undoubtedly saved his career by deciding to attack on the morning of the second day. However, Shiloh was termed a "soldiers' battle" because its outcome was ultimately determined by the individual courage and initiative of the rank-and-file soldier rather than by generalship or strategy.


Pittsburgh Battle Ground

Apr 10th /62

Dear Folks at Home

Knowing your anxiety I drop you a note in haste to inform you that I am all right. Though I have seen many a Gauntlet for life. I have not taken of my clothes for about one week. Worked night and day with the Hundreds of wounded myself and assisted at numerous operations for amputations. Our surgeon did nobly. He was acting Brigade Surgeon and most of the operations were turned over to him, and I of course assisted. It is unecessary for me to give you any particulars of those two days of accumulated horrors. The papers will give you before this reaches you fuller details of the engagement than I could possibly do. Why should I attempt to fault the horrors of that "day of darkness and amaze". God Bless Gen. Buel for saving us. Had he arrived a few hours later all would have been over with us. But I understand later that it was all a part of the general plan that our forces should retreat in order that the rebels might be outflanked by Buel's column. As we lay on the bank of the Tennessee on the night of that first day of death with the enemy's camp fires in sight and the gun-boats throwing their fiery storm over our heads to keep them at bay, who can imagine much less describe our feelings. We had two or three hundred wounded soldiers lying on the bank at the time. Nothing protected us from the Rebel cavalry except a deep ravine by which we were surrounded. But the next day our star was in the ascendant and victory crowned our arms at night-fall, but can you imagine do you wish to imagine the acme of horrors of the second day by which we were enveloped? I cannot describe them - I do not desire to. It all seems like a shadowy vision. To see hundreds of the dead lying around you with the groans of wounded calling for water and for surgical attendance which then was limited. The road to the spot where the wounded were brought was crowded, and half could not be brought in on the same day that they were wounded and some lay even two days in the rain in the woods before they were found. We made no distinction as to regiment, union men or Rebels in our attendance on the wounded and out of about one hundred wounds that I dressed myself the second day I came a cross but few of our men, but they were attended to by others of course. Our Regt (72nd) lost in killed and wounded about one hundred including the skirmish of friday.


Dr. Rice is making out a list of the killed and wounded and you will probably see it as soon as this.I may meniton Mr. Buffington and Emanual Fink as severely wounded being the only ones from our place [Elmore, Ohio] that I recall now as I put them on board last night and saw them comfortably situated. they will probably be sent to Cincinnati or Paducah all the wounded will be sent from here to some of the large cities.

Our camp was destroyed tents torn down and everything of value taken or destroyed. Our camp was the first attacked and I had to attend to wounded and could not remove a thing and lost all. I saved only the clothes on my back.

My watch was in my trunk and what I prized most of all Juliet's picture, but I have understood since that the likeness was found in the woods by one of our men and I may probably get it. About all of the officers lost their baggage, so that I am not alone in my misfortune. The surgeon - JB Rice lost his all in addition to having his horse shot. He saved nothing but his clothing that he wore at the time of the battle. He lost even his sword and his wife's likeness. But it all comes under the head of the "fortunes of War". Mitchels division is here though I am not certain that Robert [Robert Caldwell, brother of William] is here as they are encamped several miles from where we are now and Capt Joseph Bartlet told Dr. Rice last eve that he heard that the 21st Regt was left at Nashville.

The 41st 49th 24th 20th are also here and I am told that the 3d VC arrived yesterday. When we returne to camp I do not know. We are nowabout five miles from there on the Tennessee right on the [illegible] of the site greatest battle that this continent ever saw, May it be the last! Our Brigade was the only one in our division that came out of the battle as a brigade.

Our Col kept his men together and they fought shoulder to shoulder and controlled every inch of ground and yielded only to superior vastly superior numbers, and then only after our Right and left Regts. The 72nd ocupying the centre had been cut to pieces by the storm of iron and leaden hail that showered upon them from the dense colums of the approaching rebel host. But our men fell back in good order and formed near the river where they lay on their arms during the night and "anxiously awaited the mornin And it came at last and victory came with it. Thank Heaven"

But I must close This disconnected note large numbers of wounded must be attended to and there are but few to do it. May Heaven Smile on the Ladies that sent us that large box of stores for the use of the wounded and sick soldiers. It arrived on the second day of the battle and none to soon as the rebels had taken all our hospt stores.

Do not give yourselves any anxiety about me. I am well though I have slept without shelter for many a rainy night since that memorable Sunday. Our tents have been used for the wounded. But I must bid you good bye for the present and remain your affect son Wm Caldwell

I send this letter to Clyde by a person who is going there. I send you a couple of relics of the battle found in a Rebels pocketbook.