NEW ULM - New Ulm Battery Commander John Fritsche smiles when he talks about the 150th Anniversary Reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh, attended by a dozen of the Battery's members last weekend in southwest Tennessee.
It was the bloodiest battle in U.S. history up to the time it took place - April 6-7, 1862. A surprise attack by 40,000 Confederates had the Union Army reeling at first. The battle involved more than 110,000 soldiers, nearly one-fourth of whom were killed, wounded, captured or declared missing.
In the reenactment, Fritsche was appointed to command a seven-gun battery of about 60 soldiers in the event that included 6,000 artillery, cavalry and infantry re-enactors plus tens of thousands of spectators.
Re-enactors service New Ulm Battery guns and cannons at the 150th Anniversary Reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh near Memphis, Tenn. last weekend.
New Ulm Battery members from left, Dan Helgeson and Dave Reinhart tend to their cooking duties while another New Ulm Battery member tends a steaming kettle at the Battle of Shiloh reenactment.
Like the original battle, the re-enactment had lots of cannon and rifle smoke that at times hid soldiers' views of their opponents, and at times themselves.
"The smoke was so thick, we could hardly see 10 to 15 feet in front of us at times," said New Ulm Battery Captain Joe Laechel of Sleepy Eye.
Fritsche said the weather was foggy and humid for the first battle on the morning of Saturday, April 6.
It turned hot and sunny for the Saturday afternoon battle. For the third battle on Sunday, skies were clear and temperatures soared into the high 80s and it was humid.
The heat and humidity weren't the worst of it.
"We battled an army of ticks. That was the biggest personal battle for everybody. We were all busy checking each other for ticks each day," Fritsche said.
Clay that turned to mud was another adversary.
"It was slippery. Some guys fell in it. Nobody from our unit, but mud got on our equipment," Fritsche said.
"Mud was up to our ankles," Laechel added.
Aside from Mother Nature, things were pretty good, the men said.
"Everything else went well. We shot as many shots as we were allowed, about 90 shots per gun," Fritsche said. "We used up more than $800 worth of powder."
Eating food like soldiers did 150 years ago was part of the plan.
"Our cooks kept us well fed with stew, soup, biscuits and gravy, all made over a campfire," Fritsche said.
Only one of the 19 Union soldiers from New Ulm at the Battle of Shiloh was injured. Capt. Emil Munch received a wound in the leg.
During the battle, Confederates tried to drive Union soldiers away from the Tennessee River and into the swamps west of it.
After a surprise attack by 40,000 Confederates that had the Union Army reeling, battle lines became confused during fierce fighting, according to historical accounts.
Protection by many artillery batteries enabled Union lines to stabilize while Confederate Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard decided not to assault the final Union position the night after the first day of battle.
"Confederates over-ran a Union camp in the first battle, but then sat around eating Union food and were pushed out the next day," Fritsche said.
Reinforcements from Maj. Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Don Carlos Buell helped 40,000 Union soldiers launch a counterattack the next day, forcing 30,000 Confederates to retreat. Union soldiers advanced into northern Mississippi.
The 1st Minnesota unit split up after the Battle of Shiloh. New Ulm members who deployed to the Battle of Shiloh included Capt. Emil Munch, 1st Lt. William Pfaender, 2nd Lt. Richard Fischer, Eugene Gerstenhauer, Peter Lieber, Charles Heers, Charles Winkler, Gustav Andre, William Vincens, I.F. Kastner, W. Massapust, Frederick Gerboth, Martin Miller, William Thiele, Kuschneck (first name not listed), Rosmer Reimers, John G. Merkle, John Hauenstein, Louis Schiling, August Schilling, Frederic Wieland, and Lambert Naegele.
Re-enactors wore period civilian clothes when outside their tents and not re-enacting.
The re-enactment site was next to Shiloh National Park, near the Tennessee River, about 100 miles east of Memphis.
The New Ulm Battery was organized in 1863. Its first captain was Richard Fischer, a discharged Civil War Artillery Officer. Its cannons have never been fired in war.
Fritsche has been asked to give photo presentations about the reenactment by three organizations. Next July, the New Ulm Battery plans to attend a Gettysburg reenactment.
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.