This unsigned letter was written by Owen “Weed” Nims (1842-1929) of Maquoketa, Iowa, who enlisted as a private on 14 September 1861 in Co. I, 12th Iowa Infantry. This brief but riveting eye-witness account of the Battle of Shiloh describes the whirlwind in the Hornet’s Nest and “Hell’s Hollow” where the 8th, 12th, and 14th Iowa “sacrificed themselves but saved the remainder of Grant’s army from capture or entire destruction.” Weed was captured at Shiloh, presumably with the other 400 members of his regiment who were cut off from their retreat in the late afternoon of the first day’s fight. So too were many members of the 8th and the 14th Iowa Regiments. “Not one half of the three Iowa regiments who so grandly marched forth to battle on that beautiful Sabbath morning were ever reported for duty again.”
A soldier from Co. D of the 12th Iowa described the situation as the surrender took place: “All the while the men kept a constant fire on the enemy and a veritable Babel ensued. The camp was one vast slaughter pen, and it is apparent that is only a question of a little time when all must fall….Two rebel officers approached and demanded an immediate surrender….about 15 minutes before 6 o’clock P. M. on April 6th, 1862 Captain Edgington surrendered his sword….Some of the men refused to lay down their arms and continued firing….others smashed their guns around the trees and cut up their accouterments, but nothing else could be done. Reluctantly all laid down their arms.”
After his release from captivity, Weed was discharged from the service on 23 August 1862.
Weed was the son of Amasa Nims (1810-1894) and Adeline Goodenow (1813-1893) of Maquoketa, Jackson county, Iowa.
Battle of Shilo[h]
Sunday, April 6, 1862
Morning of battle. Reading of bible in tent. Peach trees in blossom. The long roll. Fall in Co. I. Haversack with grub. Our position in line of battle left of center, in Prentiss’ Division. Brigaded with 8th, 12th, and 14th Iowa. The booming of cannon and roar of musketry was heard. Position in old road [“Sunken Road”]. Part of day [ ] down from travel over. Wish it was deeper many times that day. Constant firing right and left all of the time. Forming square for cavalry charge. ¹ The butternuts [ ] thundering down on us but our glistening bayonets was rather more than they expected and they fired their carbines ² and wheeled their [horses] round and got back under cover of woods and we was doing all we could with our muskets as long as we could see them. Took position in ranks. Quiet death of Confederate soldier—wanted [to] die under the American [flag]. I have but a few minutes to live supporting battery of artillery.
¹ I can find no account by a member of the Iowa regiments mentioning the formation of a hollow square in anticipation of a cavalry attack during the battle although I did find one by Lieutenant Hugh William Henry (Co. K, 22nd Alabama) in a letter he wrote four days later saying, “We had formed a square, thinking their cavalry about to charge.” [Hugh Henry to parents, April 10, 1862, Shiloh-Corinth Collection, Alabama Department of Archives and History.] According to Shiloh historians, the Confederates attempted to use their cavalry in the fighting at Shiloh much more than the Federals but found them rather useless and lost many men.
² Various sources indicate it was Lindsay’s First Mississippi Cavalry that charged the Hornet’s Nest and were repulsed. These troopers were armed with breech-loading Maynard Carbines.