“. . . none but soldiers are permitted to go up the Tennessee River!”
William Harvey Lamb Wallace was born in Urbana, on July 8, 1821.
His family would move to Illinois. He would become a lawyer and served in the infantry during the Mexican War. He resumed his interest in law until the outbreak of the Civil War. He joined the Union army in Illinois and became commander of his military district’s 3rd Brigade in the fall of 1861.
For his leadership qualities at Fort Donelson, Tenn., he was elevated to brigadier general in 1862. Wallace soon led the 2nd Division and went into encampment with the Army of Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.
On April 6 and 7, 1862, the Union army and its Confederate counterpart clashed in the first great battle of the American Civil War—Shiloh Meeting House or Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., 23 miles from Corinth, Miss. Here on “Day 1,” April 6, 1862, “W.H.L.” would meet his fate at age 41.
Many interested in the Civil War confuse William Harvey Lamb Wallace with Lewis or Lew Wallace. Lew Wallace took part also in the capture of Fort Donelson and distinguished himself at Shiloh Meeting House. He would save Cincinnati from southern invasion and fought Jubal Early at the Monocacy in 1864.
Lew was part of the military court that tried those involved in the Lincoln assassination. He would author Ben Hur. This Wallace, Lewis or Lew, survived the Battle of Shiloh in 1862; “W.H.L.” did not!
Ann Wallace, wife of W.H.L. Wallace, would begin an incredible journey from Illinois to be with her husband, a commander in Grant’s Army of the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing.
He had told her he had been ill. She wrote him that “Sometimes, Will, I can hardly restrain myself, I feel as if I must go to you, more so when I think of you sick. . . .”
So, Ann decided to travel to Savannah, Tenn., in Hardin County. Her husband did not know she was coming. Her family and friends tried to discourage her, knowing the political and military obstacles about to face her.
She made contact with an Illinois contractor providing supplies for the Union army. He secured a guide for her. A neighbor, Judge Canton, was to contact military personnel at Cairo for permission to make the journey.
A General Strong at Cairo had to give permission. He was not there and an Adjutant issued her a travel permit. Military passengers on board were very kind to Ann and even brought her wild spring flowers. She reached Savannah about midnight on April 5, 1862.
She sent word to General Grant’s staff that she came there without her husband’s knowledge. Grant sent a message that her husband was at Pittsburg Landing and she arrived there before daylight of April 6, 1862, not knowing the biggest battle of the war, thus far, was about to begin.
She stayed on the steamboat that day, as it transported arriving Yankee troops across the river to the battlesite. To pass time, Ann assisted surgeons in treating the wounded.
In the Battle of Shiloh that first day, Ann Wallace had two brothers, her husband, two of her husband’s brothers, and some other more distant relatives.
One of her brothers, Cyrus Dickey, came aboard that evening and told her that her husband, “W.H.L.” or “Will,” was dead and that his body was on ground held by the enemy. Upon hearing this bad news, she spent the night aiding the wounded.
Grant’s Army of the Tennessee had been surprised by Albert S. Johnston and his 40,000 Confederates.
At 3 a.m. on April 6, 1862, contact was made and the first great battle of the Civil War, Shiloh Meeting House, had begun. “Green” federal troops fled to the rear in fear, but Union Gen. Benjamin Prentiss placed 1,000 men in a sunken road, one mile behind their original location.
“W.H.L.” Wallace’s and Hurlbut’s veterans reinforced the Union line in the sunken road, to be forever known as the “Hornets’ Nest.” The Union troops, in the sunken road, would hold until 5:30 p.m. and then surrender occurred.
The Battle of Shiloh Meeting House continued on April 7, 1862, under a different Southern commander. Grant would retake much ground lost the day before.
Ann’s brother, Cyrus, came to her on April 7 and told her that her husband was alive. During his stand in the sunken road, a piece of artillery shell had hit him in the temple. He had lain on the field all night after a Confederate had wrapped him in a blanket.
Wallace was taken to Grant’s headquarters, Cherry Mansion, where Ann sat by his bedside.
The wound became infected and family knew all hope was gone. His last words to Ann were: “We meet in Heaven.” He died on April 10, 1862. Ann Wallace believed God had led her up the Tennessee River for a purpose.
Bob Leith is a history professor at Ohio University Southern.