HEADQUARTERS 54TH REGIMENT O. V. INF.,
CAMP NO. 5 1N THE FIE1D, May 8, 1862.
I notice the printers make terrible havoc with my name. They call me Kelly, and Kirby, and F. Kirby, and the Lord only knows what else, but I can generally be identified as the Smith who led the Second Brigade on Monday, and that directly under Sherman's eye, and in conjunction with the celebrated Rousseau Brigade. A good many of the local papers up through the country have complimented both the regiment and myself. These, of course, you do not see, but I would advise you to take all of the Cincinnati papers for a while, and look out for official reports of both Sherman and General Stuart. I have not written full details of the battle to you for two reasons. One that I had very little time and one that I thought you would get fuller details through the newspapers. The battle is getting somewhat stale now anyhow. The next one I will try harder.
While I write there is an incessant roar of artillery, heavy siege guns. We made a sortie this morning and had a brush with the enemy's pickets. My Zouaves killed three of them, wounded five, and brought in four prisoners. Our brigade, the Second of the Fifth Division, consisting now of only Colonel Stuart's regiment and mine, is clear in the advance of the whole army and the nearest to Corinth. We heard for two nights the whistle of the cars very plainly. Cannon are playing all the time, and I think a great battle not far off. General Sherman has been made a Major-General, a promotion he well deserves. You must not believe all the newspapers say of him; he is a splendid officer and a most excellent, good man. I have every confidence in him. I sat by his side on horseback for an hour on Monday of that terrible battle while shot and shell, cannon, cannister, and Minieballs rained and rattled all about us. Scores of horses and men killed, and falling so close that the dead and dying piled all up about our horses, his cheek never blanched. He never for a moment lost his coolness. His hand was badly wounded by a piece of shell. He quietly went on giving his orders as if nothing had happened. A few minutes before I joined him he had three horses killed under him. A braver man I never saw, and I saw him in the thickest of it. If you note the official returns, you will discover that the Sherman Division lost a great many more in killed and wounded than either of the other divisions. I had intended to write mother, but have just received orders to get my regiment in marching trim. We go forward, and this time, I think, no halt till we storm the batteries of Corinth. You must make the latter part of this letter do for her. I think of her always, in the still camp at nightfall, on the march, or in the din of conflict her image is always in my heart. I have written very often to her, it is strange she does not receive my letters. She asks for details of my regiment, these she must get from the newspapers. Even they, or those who have written for them, admit my men fought most gallantly. I took three hundred and ninety into the field, of these one hundred and ninety fell killed or wounded. Ask her to search the papers for detailed report General Sherman, and Colonel Stuart, which ought to accompany it. Part of this has been published in the New York Herald. The Illinois papers publish accounts of the 54th. You know, but must write mother, for she, I suppose, has not heard it, that the regiment stood on Sunday under a murderous fire for four hours and a half; that the 55th Illinois and the 54th Ohio with about eight hundred and fifty men were attacked by an entire division, admitted by intelligent prisoners, surgeons, and others to contain nearly ten thousand, with cavalry and artillery, led by some of their best generals; Hardee among the number; that we stood till our ammunition was all exhausted, and then fell back in good order for more; that while standing, we piled the ground with the enemy's dead; that we made two of their regiments break and run, who in running were received on the bayonets of their own men, who forced them back. On Wednesday one thousand five hundred of their dead were buried in one little ravine where they fell. Towards the last and when ammunition got scarce, my Zouaves never fired a shot without drawing a cool bead; and no shot was fired, for we were within less than one hundred yards of them, that a rebel did not bite the dust. We fell back, were reinforced with ammunition, formed a line, and in the rear of the batteries fought till dark. We lay on our arms in the rain and rose to fight all day Monday, and on Monday evening we were in the advance of the army, and the last to stop under orders in pursuit of the fleeing foe. We lay on our arms Monday night, and were in the line of battle again on Tuesday, and on Wednesday we marched forth to bring in thirty-two prisoners.
Individual acts of heroism were performed by men and officers of my regiment that have never been excelled in song or story. There is none to tell the tale for them, and they are too modest to puff themselves. You will not find details, but you will find the main facts in the reports I have spoken of, and these you must hunt up and read. I am considered by my superior officers to have done my duty, and I have their confidence, God has been good in preserving my life.
SOURCE: Walter George Smith, Life and letters of Thomas Kilby Smith, p. 201-4