Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. I Was Dead and Buried: A Soldier Visits His Own Grave at Shiloh


Post-war photo of William C. Phipps (The Indianapolis News, May 28, 1912)
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:

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.

Illustration depicting a Pennsylvania soldier giving William C. Phipps his shirt. (The Indianapolis Star, May 30, 1909)

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.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A relative was elected Captain of his company of volunteers. The company went into action at the Battle of Lookout Mountain, the “Battle Above the Clouds,” outside Chattanooga. The battle was won by the Union with light casualties.

    Light casualties doesn’t mean none. He led the company in an assault. He never came back. His cenotaph is the tallest monument in the village cemetery.

    • #1
    • November 25, 2020, at 6:29 PM PST
  2. Arahant Member

    I think all my relatives made it out alive. Certainly my ancestors, five that I know of, did so.

    • #2
    • November 25, 2020, at 6:48 PM PST
    • 1 like
  3. Arahant Member

    I know I also had three great-great-granduncles who were all physicians (so was their brother, my direct ancestor). I think they all made it back home alive.

    • #3
    • November 25, 2020, at 7:00 PM PST
    • 1 like
  4. Locke On Member

    Three great-great-grandfathers, all Union side. Two came back, one died in front of Petersburg. One of the two had his health ruined and was apparently never the same. The last became a big wheel in the Indiana GAR in the late 19th century.

    • #4
    • November 25, 2020, at 9:26 PM PST
  5. MichaelKennedy Inactive

    My great uncle survived Shiloh but was wounded on May 22, the last charge that Grant attempted on Vicksburg before setting down to a siege. He was transported to Memphis where the union hospital was located. They had to go by night past Vicksburg to Memphis. He wrote his wife to tell her he was wounded.

    Floating Hospl Nashville

    Near Vicksburg

    May 17th 1863


    Dear Wife,

    I take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to inform you of my health. I received a wound in my left arm but it is doing well and I expect to go home as soon as the rush is over, they are not taking any up the river now but the worst cases, you need not worry about me for I am in a good place and when I go up the river I may have to stay at week or two before getting a chance to go on home. I received two letters from you while on the Black River on Sunday night and on Monday we established our lines around Vicksburg, we had them completely surrounded before there was a gun fired. The action commenced on Tuesday and had been kept up ever since. Sometimes very hard fighting and sometimes light. I was wounded on the 22nd while getting supplies to the Regiment. I was sent to this Hospital by way of the Yazoo and arrived here the night of the 23rd with about 350 others, the rest of the Lasalle boys were all safe the last I heard from them hoping these lines may find you in good health I bring this to a close from your absent

    W.J. Kennedy

    P.S. do not worry or fret about me for I am doing well and will go up the river in a few days”

    He died in June from typhoid and probably infection. His wife got this letter.

    June 22 [1863]


    Mrs. Jane Kennedy

    I write to inform you of the sad news that your husband died this morning at eight o’clock, through the night and this morning he seemed very quiet & I think not conscious of his suffering. He was brought in to this weard two weeks since. He was shot in the elbow badly and had Typhoid fever slightly and wandering part of the time. His money & effects are in the hands of the Officer of this Hospital Gayoso Hospital Ward J.

    I am here taking care of my brother and your husbands cot was close to his and would give him drink & feed him etc. My Br thinks we have a excellent serjeon here he feels perfectly satisfied with the management & good care and attention. This ward is very cool & comfortable.

    I writ you by request of the Chaplin

    Emeline Brose

    Memphis Tenn

    Gayoso Hospital

    Ward J

    His wooden casket had the name written on a piece of paper but it rained that day and the name disappeared. His wife never was able to find his grave.

    • #5
    • November 26, 2020, at 11:26 AM PST