Civil War Ballads: Shiloh’s Hill

Shiloh’s Hill is a moving tribute to the men who fought and died at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6–7, 1862. Just before sunrise, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston’s 40,000-strong Army of Mississippi attacked Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s 55,000-strong Army of the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. The battle shocked the combatants with its brutality. 23,700 total soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured. It took its name from Shiloh Church, where the Union army first put up a defense.

The version of this song I’m familiar with, sung by the 97th Regimental String Band, was featured in Classic Images’ Civil War 125th Anniversary Series VHS (1987) on the Battle of Shiloh. It was, by far, my favorite episode in the series. A veteran of the battle wrote the original lyrics, but they have been adapted and changed over the years.

In 1961, folk singer-songwriter Jimmie Driftwood released the following version, “On Top of Shiloh’s Hill,” on his album Songs of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb.

Come all you gallant soldiers, a story I will tell,
about the bloody battle on top of Shiloh’s Hill.
It was an awful struggle that caused your heart to chill,
all from the bloody battle on top of Shiloh’s Hill.

‘Twas on the sixth of April, about the break of day,
The drums and fifes were playing, for us to march away.
My feelings at that moment, I do remember still,
When first my feet were tromping on top of Shiloh’s Hill.

About the hour of sunrise, the battle first began,
Before the fight was over, we fought them hand-to-hand.
The horror of that battle, my heart with anguish fill,
the wounded and the dying on top of Shiloh’s Hill.

Early the next morning we fit to fight again,
unmindful of the wounded, un-useful to the slain.
The cannon smoke did hide the sun, ten thousand was a-killed,
and streams of blood went running on top of Shiloh’s Hill.

My uniform of blue was turned into a purplish red,
when someone on a foaming steed did strike me on the head.
I sent a bullet through his heart, and as he fell away,
I saw the face of my dear father, dressed in bloody gray.

We won the battle, but my heart will always be in pain.
The one who brought me to this world, I’ll never see again.
I pray to Christ my savior, consistent with his will,
God save the souls of them poor boys on top of Shiloh’s Hill.

Alternative Lyrics

This version comes from the 1976 National Geographic album Songs of the Civil War.

songs-of-the-civil-warCome all you valiant soldiers, a story I will tell,
about the bloody battle that was fought on Shiloh’s Hill.
It was an awful struggle that would cause your blood to chill,
it was the famous battle that was fought on Shiloh’s Hill.

It was on the sixth of April, just at the break of day,
The drums and fifes were playing, for us to march away.
About the hour of sunrise, the battle did begin,
and before the day had vanished, we fought them hand-to-hand.

The wounded men were crying for help from everywhere,
while others who were dying were offering God their prayers.
Protect my wife and children if it is Thy holy will.
Oh, such were the prayers I heard that night on Shiloh Hill.

And early the next morning we were called to arms again,
unmindful of the wounded, un-useful to the slain.
The struggle was renewed again, ten thousand men were killed,
this was the second conflict of the famous Shiloh Hill.

Before the day was ended, the battle ceased to roar,
and thousands of brave soldiers had fell to rise no more.
They left their vacant ranks for some other ones to fill,
and now their moldering** bodies all lie on Shiloh Hill.

**To turn to dust by natural decay; crumble; disintegrate; waste away.

Original–the following is the original song/poem, written by M.G. Smith, a member of Company C, 2nd Texas Volunteer Infantry. At Shiloh, the 2nd Texas was in Brigadier General John K. Jackson’s Brigade, Withers’ Division. Smith fought at the battle and saw action at the Hornet’s Nest.

Battle of Shiloh by Thure de Thulstrup depicts fighting at the Hornet's Nest

Battle of Shiloh by Thure de Thulstrup depicts fighting at the Hornet’s Nest

Come all ye valiant soldiers — a story I will tell
About the bloody battle that was fought on Shiloh Hill.
It was an awful struggle and will cause your blood to chill;
It was the famous battle that was fought on Shiloh Hill.

‘Twas on the sixth of April, just at the break of day;
The drums and fifes were playing for us to march away.
The feeling of that hour I do remember still,
When first my feet were tromping on the top of Shiloh Hill.

About the hour of sunrise the battle it began;
Before the day was ended, we fought ’em hand to hand.
The horrors of that field did my heart with anguish fill
For the wounded and the dying that lay on Shiloh Hill.

There were men from every nation laid on those bloody plains,
Fathers, sons, and brothers were numbered with the slain,
That has caused so many homes with deep mourning to be filled,
All from the bloody battle that was fought on Shiloh Hill.

The wounded men were crying for help from everywhere,
While others who were dying were offering God their prayer,
“Protect my wife and children if it is Thy holy will!”
Such were the prayers I heard that night on Shiloh Hill.

And early the next morning we were called to arms again,
Unmindful of the wounded and unuseful to the slain;
The struggle was renewed again, and ten thousand men were killed;
This was the second conflict of the famous Shiloh Hill.

The battle it raged on, though dead and dying men
Lay thick all o’er the ground, on the hill and on the glen;
And from their deadly wounds, the blood ran like a rill;
Such were the mournful sights that I saw on Shiloh Hill.

Before the day was ended, the battle ceased to roar,
And thousands of brave soldiers had fell to rise no more;
They left their vacant ranks for some other ones to fill,
And now their moldering bodies all lie on Shiloh Hill.

And now my song is ended about those bloody plains;
I hope the sight by mortal man may ne’er be seen again!
But I pray to God, the Saviour, “If consistent with Thy will,
To save the souls of all who fell on bloody Shiloh Hill.”

About Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

Posted on March 2, 2017, in History, Music and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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