Great-great Uncle Walter Tuller signed up for Company C of the Ohio 5th Cavalry regiment on January 28, 1862. He survived the bloody battle of Shiloh, but was dead by August, of a sniper shot from a cornfield as his cavalry company pushed into Mississippi in General Grant’s Western campaign to take control of the Mississippi River in the Civil War, restricting the South’s ability to get supplies.
My uncle, Don Notley, a geologist, never knew his father because my grandfather was banned from the family after he contracted syphilis. My uncle took up a lifelong interest in genealogy.
Out of this research came a 46-page booklet describing the short life of my Great-great Uncle Walter Tuller. It starts out like this:
“On January 28 of 1862 a young man from the village of Worthington, Ohio felt sufficiently motivated by the Union cause in the Civil War that he signed on for a three year hitch in the 5th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.
Two hundred days later he lay dead, killed by men he called ‘rebels’ near a small bridge in northern Mississippi, a sacrifice to a cause to which he ardently subscribed. The young man was Walter A. Tuttle.”
Walter Arius Tuttle was born on January 1, 1841, 21 years old when he enlisted.
An educated farm boy, whose father was also a successful businessman, Tuller writes in letters home during the war about fields of cotton and wheat, as well as apples, peaches, corn, beans, peas and mulberries along the route he traveled in the Western campaign, between Fort Donelson, Tennessee, the Battle of Shiloh, in Tennessee, and Corinth, Mississippi, near where he was ambushed by a sniper.
His unit was part of the North’s effort to split the Confederacy by taking control of the Mississippi River. Seizing Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River was the first part of this plan and General U.S. Grant achieved this in February, 1862. General Johnston, commander of the Confederate troops, then withdrew to Corinth, Mississippi.
Private Tuller wrote a letter from the field March 21, 1862, when he has joined Grant’s forces, presumably to his younger sister, 16-year-old Frances (Fannie) Tuller, my great-grandmother. Grant has just been ordered to follow the Confederates to Corinth.
“Friday Morning March 21
Last night I was on camp guard & close to my ‘beat’ there was an infantry guard had his thumb shot off by a sculking rebel….
At the railroad junction about eight or ten miles distant there is a rivel force of about a hundred thousand & they are continually arriving. It is generally supposed that there is to be one of the largest and most decisive battle of the war fought here soon.
It is thought they are concentrating all their available force there for a last final struggle. Therefore, if our arms are victorious, the war will soon be over, but if they are not the Lord only knows when it will end.”
My Uncle Don wryly notes about this letter that, with its military detail, the censors of World War II, in which he served as a Navy officer, would have gone nuts reading such a letter from a soldier.
Tuller describes his typical day in a letter:
“Reville at day break. Roll call fifteen minutes after, horse feeding immediately after roll call & breakfast as soon as horse feeding is over. Then comes horse water. Dinner precisely at noon. In the afternoon horse feeding and water from four to five, supper at six. Assembly call at eight & taps at 9, when all have to retire and put out all the lights.
It is some trouble to take care of a horse, but we have plenty of time to do it, & when we come to march past the infantry lugging their heavy knapsacks, guns & forty rounds of ball cartridges besides their canteen of water & from one to three days provisions in their haversacks through such a hilly & muddy country as this we feel amply repaid for all our trouble.
Saturday March 22nd (continued)
There is a field of cotton in our camp lines that is unpicked but of course it is spoiled and should have been gathered last fall.
There is just the nicest softest water down here that I ever saw. If you wash without soap it feels just as though there was grease on your hands. It is so soft, & then you can wash clothes about as clean in it cold as you can in our well water when hot.
The Second Battalion O.V.C (Ohio Volunteer Cavalry) were the first union troops in Mississippi although we are not in there now.
[Direct letters to me] W. A. Tuller, Co. C, 5th Regiment, O.V.C. Paducah, Ky.
Your loving brother,
On April 6th and 7th, 1862, the two sides joined in battle at Shiloh. General Johnston’s 40,000 Confederates attacked, trying to disable General Grant of the Union before Grant’s 42,000 troops were joined by General Buell’s 20,000. Buell arrived from Nashville on the 7th and the Confederates, now facing reinforced fresh troops, withdrew. General Johnston was killed in the battle. On the first day, the Union troops appeared to have been caught off-guard and were pushed back two miles. On the second day, their superior numbers were too much for the Confederates. They regained their ground and opened a path to take the Mississippi River.
Tuller described the battle for his sister two days later.
“Pittsburgh [Pittsburgh Landing, on the Western side of the Tennessee River, site of the Battle of Shiloh] April 9th 1862
My Dear Sister
Although I have not received answers to any of the letters I have written you I concluded to write you a few lines that you may know that I am in the land of the living. Of course you have heard all about the battle of Shiloh and I will not attempt to describe it to you. Suffise to say it was the hardest fought battle that ever was fought on this continent. Although our regiment was several times exposed to a heavy fire of shot and shell, there was but a few killed or wounded.
It is impossible for a person to form any idea of the horrors of a battle field who has not been on one….We killed Gen A. S. Johnston & I saw his body.
You must not show this letter to any one.
With much love to all I remain your affectionate brother.
W. A. Tuller”
By the third week of April, 1862, still at or near Pittsburgh Landing, Tuller’s frustration with the horrors of battle at Shiloh spills into an indictment of General Grant.
“You have perhaps noticed in some of the papers that Gen Grant, in a published letter is trying to exonerate himself from all blame in regard to the battle at Shiloh. His denial of having been surprised is as base a falsehood as ever was uttered or else he is an unmitigated traitor and I trust that the investigating committee will not be partial in their investigations.
If Uncle Sam shall have finished his job of threshing by the 1st of July and God should spare my life I will probably be home in time to help father through haying.”
But President Lincoln supported Grant, with the explanation, “He fights.” The Union lost 13,047, including 1,754 deaths. The Confederates lost 10,697, including 1,723 deaths. There were no deaths in Tuller’s cavalry company.
Tuller chastises his sister for giving his previous letter to the newspaper, citing his grammatical and spelling errors in his haste to write under cramped circumstances, his admittedly incomplete description of the battle of Shiloh and the fact that his letters are intended for family only.
Tuller’s unit moves on to Corinth, Mississippi, following the Confederates, who had retreated there after Shiloh and retreated from the city hours before the Union troops arrived.
“Friday May 30th half past Eight, P. M.
This morning at Eight o-clock the news came that Corinth was evacuated. We were ordered to saddle immediately, and start in pursuit. In less than fifteen minutes we were on our way toward Corinth….
If we had learned an hour sooner that they were evacuating, we could have captured a large portion of their army. But as it was Gen’s Pope & Mitchel bagged about three thousand of their troops and a large baggage train….
Another word about Corinth. It is a very pretty place of about two thousand inhabitants, containing about a dozen stores & as many groceries. There was only three or four families left in the place. These hung out a white flag when our forces entered. I tell you it was really a feast to the eyes to see a town once more and some traces of civilization.
Sunday June 1st [continuation of letter]
…I was stationed on the road to Corinth as a provost guard…None were allowed to pass, excepting Staff & Field officers, unless they had a pass signed by a general or the provost marshal. Yet hundreds would come with passes signed by Majors and Colonels, and of course I had to stop them.
Monday evening [continuation of letter]
…I have just returned from a scout out the Memphis & Clarksville R Road [Chewalla, Tennessee]. About two miles from this place there are two bridges which the station master was ordered to burn at 4 o-clock Friday morning, but he got scarred and burned them before their trains had passed over. Consequently they burned their trains consisting of 7 locomotives and 100 cars to prevent them from falling into our hands. A part of them were loaded with commissary stores which were burned also. This must be a serious loss to them. But the locomotives have very little wood about them, consequently they were not injured so much but that we have repaired six of them and they are now running on the road. Such a mass of ruins I never saw before.”
Memphis fell on June 6, 1862. Tuller was there on August 8, 1862. On Saturday, August 16, his company C was sent out south to “probe along the road to Hernando, Mississippi. When they neared the bridge over Horn Lake Creek, about four miles into Mississippi, shots rang out from a nearby cornfield and Walter Tuller fell from his horse, mortally wounded.”
A corporal, John S. Bowles, Company D, Fifth Ohio Cavalry, coming right behind Company C, wrote an account of Tuller’s last hours.
“August 16, 1862 – Skirmish at Horn Lake Creek, Miss.
On the morning of the 16th we left our camp at Nonconah Creek and started out on the Hernando road, Company A acting as the advance guard and Company C taking the advance of the main body. Company D was on picket on the preceding night, and therefore did not go out, but I, having been excused from picket, went out on my own accord, intending to join Company C’s ranks, but finding that they had even pairs and I would have to ride in the rear by myself, I rode at the side of the company but toward the rear….
We were proceeding slowly toward the creek and had got about half way to it when we heard quite a number of shots fired…We were immediately ordered into a smart gallop and kept on until we reached the bridge over Horn Lake Creek. Here we dropped into a walk and were slowly crossing the creek when I heard a shot from somewhere and immediately afterward heard a man cry with pain….I saw the wounded man as I rode past, but being anxious to get a shot at the enemy, did not take much notice of him. However I noticed a man get off his horse and take the wounded man in his arms….I have been told by some of the men who rode close to the man who was shot that the shots came from the corn field and the men who fired were on foot, and that there was not many of them, not more than half a dozen anyhow,, and that they ran away as soon as they fired.”
Tuller’s body was put on a horse, led to a buggy by the corporal and returned to camp. He is buried in the Tuller family plot in Worthington, Ohio, where my Uncle took a picture of his tombstone in 1979.
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru
- Why Some Civil War Soldiers Glowed in the Dark (mentalfloss.com)