Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
There are many oddball stories associated with the American Civil War, and this is one of them; it concerns a soldier from Indiana who visited his own grave at Shiloh. The story was told in The Hocking Sentinel (Logan, Ohio), June 4, 1903:
William C. Phipps, of Indianapolis, accompanied the Governor’s party to Shiloh. April 4, for the dedication of the Indiana monuments, for the purpose of seeing whether he was still dead. He desired to view his resting place again. I was especially anxious to see this old battlefield,’ said Mr. Phipps, ‘for there I fought, bled and died in my youth.
I was staggering about out of ranks when I was ordered to get to fighting. I told the officer that I was shot and he ordered me to the rear. My comrades saw me making my way to the nearest hospital, when a shell crashed into a decaying ash. The dirt and bark flew everywhere. I escaped with my eyes and mouth filled with debris. My comrades felt sure that I was killed, and long afterward they picked up the mangled body of a man near the site of the explosion. It was mangled beyond recognition. They tenderly bore it away and buried it, and the rough board above the grave bore the inscription:
WILLIAM C. PHIPPS,
Company A, 11th Indiana.
Died April 7, 1862.
That night, when the fighting was done, they wrote home that I was killed. Strange as it was that I was not killed, I was not even injured by the explosion, and continued on my way to the rear. Finally a soldier overtook me and put me on his horse. Presently we came to a hospital in the woods and I asked the regiment. It was the Illinois regiment of which my brother was surgeon, but his assistant said that he was on General Grant’s staff. His assistant was very kind to me. I sat on a soap box while he dressed the wound in my breast.
By the time he was through I was so weak I could hardly sit. He looked around for a cot, but there were only seven in the tent and all were occupied. He said, however, that they would die fast and that one of the cots would soon be ready for me. It may seem a terrible thought now, but it seemed all right then. Presently one of the men died and I got his place.
I was awake most of the night, and I shall never forget the things that I heard and saw in that tent. By morning all seven men, with the exception of a man who had a great hole torn in his head, had died. The doctor came in occasionally to tell some poor fellow that he could not live to get back home. All night long they talked of their wives and mothers and sent loving messages to those at home. Some dictated letters.
I was feeling a good deal better when morning came, and I crawled out to find my company. As I walked, my shirt, which was a mass of blood, flopped against me and the odor of the blood made me sick. I wanted another shirt. I finally came across a big fellow from a Pennsylvania regiment, chopping wood. I showed him my shirt and asked if he knew where I could find a clean one. He did not say a word but solemnly laid down his ax, pulled off his coat and skinned his shirt from his back. I thanked him as he put his coat back on, but he did not say a word as he went back to chopping wood.
When I arrived at camp, the men were mourning my death. The first man I met was Captain David Negley. He looked at me blankly for a moment, then said: ‘How in the h– did you dig out?’ This was the first intimation I had that I was dead and buried.
I went with the boys to see my grave, and when I left for home on furlough, my silent partner was still on watch in my name. I went to old Shiloh to see if he was still serving in my name. Poor fellow, I presume that his friends at home never did find out what became of him.”
I did a little research, and it appears that William Phipps’ grave at Shiloh is no longer there – hopefully the unknown soldier who resided there now has his own tombstone. William C. Phipps went home to Indiana at the end of the war and filed for a veteran’s pension in 1879. He also worked for many years as a court bailiff and died on October 12, 1921. William C. Phipps now rests in his second and final grave at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.Published in