Who’s side is God on….?

     I’ve always found it interesting that both sides implored the God of Heaven and Earth for help in the Civil War. Brother faced brother across a battle field of issues: slavery, states’ rights, the power of the federal government, etc., etc.. I’ve always had an interest in history. I guess you say I inherited it from my Dad. When other kids were going to Disney World we were going to Williamsburg VA and Mystic Seaport. I had read once in my Dad’s geneology papers that my Great-Great Grand Father fought the Battle of Shiloh. Everytime I’ve been to that battle field, which is about 1/2 hour fromwhere I live, I always feel a strange sense of connection with the place. So, many days after this picture was taken, I received an email from a woman who wanted to know if I was related to a Jeremiah Briggs from Arkansas. This man she said had settled in Gibson Co. Tennessee and was in some way related to her family. Well I missed the spelling in the last name, it was “Biggs”. So, I replied and told her that my family was from Ohio, but that I had a relative that fought at the Battle of Shiloh. I told her what I knew of him, then it dawned on me that perhaps I didn’t have my facts straight. As a historian of sorts this is very important to me. Someone one said, “There is what the legends say and then there is what history tells us.” So with that in mind, I went back to my Dad’s geneology book.

     Two brothers fought for the Union in the Civil war, Richard Briggs Jr. and John Briggs, (John was named after his Grandfather who was born in Wales in the 1760’s. Their Father Richard Sr. imigrated from Wales in 1848 with his wife, the boy Richard Jr. (5 yrs.) and the infant John (9mos.). He then went to California for the Gold Rush of 1849. He must have done alright because when he returned he bought farm land in Ohio. Both brothers enlisted in the Army in Cleveland, Ohio in 1861. They marched to Missouri where they were formed into units. Richard’s was the 13th Missoouri which later became the 22nd Ohio. Richard may have been about 18 at the time, his brother John would have been much younger maybe about 13 or 14. Richard left his wife and baby son Joseph to go off and fight.

     This monument  shows that fact and marks the spot where their infantry unit engaged the Confederate forces on April the 6th, 1862. It stands near a burial trench where the bodies of the Confederate dead were buried by Union troops. I’ve wondered for a long time exactly what part of the Battle my Great Grandfather was in so I bought a map from the Park Gift Shop that has all the different monuments and troop movement/engagement markers on it. It seems that Richard’s unit was on the right flank of General Grant’s battle line. I f you know anything of this battle, the infamous Hornet’s nest was in the middle of the line and was bombarded by the largest cannonade ever seen on the North American continent up to that time. It was said that a soldier could walk across the battlefield and not touch the ground because of all the bodies of the dead. The Union forces including my Great-Great Grandfather’s were almost pushed back into the river that first day. The sun was going down and the fighting ceased. Good thing too, because the Union forces were being over run and Richard could have been caught, captured or killed. In that case, I might not be here to tell his story. Darkness crept in and everyone spent the night listening to the sound of the wounded and dying crying and pleading for help out in the woods in front of their defensive lines.

      This marker was placed in the area that the 13th Missouri regiment occupied the night of April 6th, 1862. You can see the woods behind the marker where the fighting took place. The Confederates pulled back and took up a position behind a breastwork of logs that was on the other side of a field that lay beyond thes woods. The distance is about half a mile from this spot in a place known as Jones’ Field.

     The morning of April 7th, 1862 the sun rose again and my Great-Great Grandfather’s Regiment prepared, once more, for a bloody carnage. In front of them lay the bodies of friend and foe alike and behind them was the river and General Buell’s Army of the Ohio. Reinforcements. Enough reinforcements to push the Confederates from the battlefield. But before that could take place there would be another slaughter. I took my kids to find that place. The place where my Great-Great Grandfather’s Regiment charged the Confederate troops who had taken up their position behind a low wall of logs. A very good place to be considering what they were facing. Lee lost the Battle of Gettysburg facing the Union Army behind a wall in what would become a suicidal advance known as Pickett’s Charge. The Union lost the Battle Of Fredericksburg trying to take a low stone wall manned by Confederate soldiers. Behind Richard’s Great-Great-Great Grandchildren is a ridge that he would have marched to the top of (a distance of about 100-150 yards). Beyond that ridge it is another 200-300 yards to the Confederate breastworks. (It’s a funny thing but I’m trying to hold back tears as I imagine that day).

      The cannonade to Richard’s right would have started things off with a barrage to weaken the Confederate defences and hopefully open up some holes in their line. After a period of time, his regiment would have started marching to the top of the ridge in full view off Confederate sharpshooters. It would have been about 10 a.m. It was a very hot day. Some reports estimate that temperatures approached 100 degrees on the battlefield. This is unusually hot for April in Tennessee. Men in wool coats, loaded with ammunition, and probably backpacks and canteens marched, trotted, or ran the distace to Confederate line. I think the reason I feel like I want to cry is simple this: My Great-Great Grandfather had to muster an incredible amount of courage to cross that field. Especially, after spending the morning walking through woods littered with the bodies of men he may have known or just met days before. But he did, and he and his comrades prevailed. God’s hand protected him.

     It also delivered him out of harm’s way. Later on his regiment would drive the Confederate forces from the railroad hub of Corinth, MS. While he was in Corinth another soldier’s weapon accidentally discarged wounding my Great-Great Grandfather. The Mene ball struck him in the hip, grazing the bone and then exited his right leg 6 inches below his groin. He spent 4 months in a field hospital recovering (I read the medical report as well as his discharge papers.) and then was sent home with a disability pension. I’m sure it probably was a pitance. Never the less he was delivered out of a war that very well may have claimed his life. His Great-Great Grandson is certainly,  honored, and humbled by the courage he showed that April morning in 1862.

     His brother John survived the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga only to die in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio of pnumonia contracted from standing guard duty in the cold winter rain of 1864-65. I’m assuming that since he was so young when he joined the Army that he must have started out as a drummer boy and may help to explain why he survived the war. Drummers were usually left in the rear. Never the less his line died with him and that branch of the family tree was severed.

     Richard returned home to his wife and son with a limp that probably reminded him everyday of his experiences in Tennessee and Mississippi. Richard died in the early 1900’s. His sons Joseph and Issac carried on with the family farm. Issac became a very sucessful farmer. His brother Joseph had a son, Richard Harry Briggs whom everyone called Harry. He was my Grandfather.

     So, who’s side was God on? I honestly don’t know. The North won. They believed their’s was a just cause. Perhaps Richard believed so as well. At least he thought it was important enough to leave a wife and child and risk his life for. Maybe God wasn’t on either side but, he protected my Great-Great Grandfather as he risked loosing everythingt for men and their families that would never know his name. He certainly has inspired his Great-Great Grandson by the choice he made at 10 a.m. on April 7th, 1862. He was a brave man. I hope he inspires my sons as much as he has inspired me.

                                                                                                      Richard Briggs (c. 1900)

                                                                                     It is in his honor and memory that I post this blog


  1. abba · March 26, 2011

    That was a fascinating post. Thanks

    • Jeremiah · March 26, 2011

      Glad you liked it. I felt it was an encouragement to me from our Father. Fun too the kids really enjoyed exploring and walking the ground where their Great-Great-Great Grandpa fought.

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