March 15, 2012

Library exhibit commemorates Battle of Shiloh

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Morris Library is now showcasing a special exhibit, “Man Can Die But Once:  Shiloh Letters,” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of one of the largest battles fought on North American soil.

The Special Collections Research Center display will run through April 20 in the Hall of Presidents and Chancellors exhibit cases.  It offers an glimpse into the Civil War era and the Battle of Shiloh, which left more than 1,700 dead on each side and a total of more than 23,000 killed, wounded or missing from the Union and Confederate forces.

Visitors will see some of the library’s Civil War collection in the exhibit that Aaron Lisec, research specialist, researched and compiled.  There are excerpts from letters and a diary written by soldiers from Illinois who fought in the historic battle. 

You’ll also find a display honoring Brigadier General William H.L. Wallace, the highest- ranking Union officer to die at Shiloh.  Included is a letter from Wallace to his wife, written when he was still a colonel in the 11th Illinois Infantry, just three months before his death.  In the letter, Wallace tells his wife that he believes the “hand of God” was the cause for which he fought and that, “Men can die but once, and to fall in support of the constitution and the government our fathers established under so many evidences of Divine favor, is no mean ending of this period of existence.”

Wallace played an important role in the capture of Fort Donelson during the war, resulting in his promotion before Shiloh, the biggest battle up until that time on the continent.  He died days after a gunshot pierced his eye at Shiloh. 

The library’s collection also includes a letter from Ulysses S. Grant to his wife, Julia, a week before the Battle of Shiloh.  In it, he predicts he’ll soon have a “very large army.  A big fight may be looked for someplace before a great while which it appears to me will be the last in the West.  This is all the time supposing that we will be successful which I never doubt for a single moment.”