Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Friendship Forged Amid the Bloodshed of Shiloh

General Ralph P. Buckland

One of the most prominent national figures to ever visit Sandusky County, Ohio was General William Tecumseh Sherman, commanding general of the United States Armies from 1869 to 1884. Sometimes he accompanied President Hayes, but whatever the reason for his visit, Sherman never failed to make his way to the Park Avenue home of Fremont attorney Ralph P. Buckland. Their common bond was their shared experience at the Battle of Shiloh, the Civil War’s first great bloody battle.

General William Tecumseh Sherman

Ignoring warnings of an imminent Confederate attack, Sherman was surprised on the morning of April 6, 1862, when thousands of Rebel troops streamed out of the woods and attacked his division of green troops. Terrified, hundreds of soldiers threw down their weapons and fled to the rear. But somehow in the chaos of battle, Buckland kept his cool and the 72nd Ohio held its ground. The Sandusky Countians unleashed a withering fire as Rebels charged their front. Sherman quickly amassed what troops he could around Buckland’s defensive stand and held off the enemy long enough for Union forces to reorganize and avoid a complete rout.

General Ralph P. Buckland's Civil War Pistol
Gift of his Nephew Captain Henry Buckland
(privately owned)

Rather than accusing Sherman of negligence, Americans hailed him as a national hero for his courageous leadership under fire. No doubt, grateful to Buckland, Sherman gave high praise to the “cool, intelligent” Buckland, whose brigade was “the only one that retained its organization.”

Shiloh was a turning point in Sherman’s life. Only an average student at West Point and a failure in civilian life, he re-entered the Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. After enduring defeat at Manassas and humiliation in the press for dire predictions of Union failure in Kentucky, Sherman suffered intensely. After Shiloh, he found his footing under the command of Ulysses S. Grant. Together they formed a lethal combination.

An advocate of total warfare and never one to evade hard truths, Sherman said, “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” Called hero and liberator by some and demon and destroyer by others, General William Tecumseh Sherman earned his reputation as America’s first modern general.

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