Everett Peabody was born on June 13, 1830, in Springfield, Massachusetts. The son of Reverend William B.O. Peabody, and Eliza Amelia White, he was tall, athletic and enjoyed the outdoors. Young Everett was smart and enjoyed reading poetry, and writing. He attended Burlington College, in Vermont, and transferred to Harvard University, his sophomore year. He graduated from Harvard in 1849 – at the age of 18.(i) He took a job with the Boston Water-Works and later was employed as a leveler in the railroad industry. Peabody would take a position, with the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, that would bring him to Missouri. In early 1859, he would become a partner in the start-up Platte County Railroad. He would be their Chief Engineer and reside in St. Joseph, Missouri.
With the secession crisis, Peabody would make it known that he wanted a commission, in the volunteer army. A staunch Union man, he would be sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on May 31, 1861, by Brigadier General Nathanial Lyon. Upon arrival at Fort Leavenworth, he would become major of a group of volunteers, which would form the nucleus of the 13th Missouri Infantry. He would be commissioned colonel on September 1, 1861. Garrisoned, at Lexington, Missouri, the 13th would be captured by CS Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard, on September 20, during the battle of Lexington. It would later be reorganized, as the 25th Missouri, with Peabody as the commanding officer. The 25th would remain in Missouri, until it was ordered to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, in March 1862.
Peabody would be in command of the First Brigade of US Brigadier General Benjamin M. Prentiss’s Sixth Division, of which the 25th Missouri was assigned. Additionally, the 21st Missouri, 16th Wisconsin and the 12th Michigan were in Peabody’s brigade. Camped near Shiloh Church, the Sixth Division formed the southwestern perimeter of US Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee.
In early April, Grant was planning an offensive against CS General Albert Sidney Johnston’s Army of the Mississippi, at the important railroad hub, Corinth, Mississippi. During the overnight hours, of April 5–6, Johnston would beat Grant, to the first punch. While Federal troops heard noises, throughout the woods, on April 5, Federal Fifth Division commander, US Major General William T. Sherman was skeptical that there were any Rebel forces in the area. Furthermore, Federal picketts in the area actually saw Confederate troops, in the woods. With evidence mounting, of significant enemy activity, Sherman would tell an Ohio lieutenant, “Tell Colonel Appler (53rd Ohio) to take his damned regiment to Ohio. There is no force of the enemy nearer than Corinth.”(ii)
To say Peabody was concerned, is an understatement. Detailing three companies of the 25th Missouri, and the 12th Michigan, under the command of Major James Powell, to an early morning patrol, he was determined to see if his position was in jeopardy. Leaving around 3:00 AM, they would encounter Rebel cavalry, as the first rays of sunlight lit the eastern sky. Hastily forming a line of battle, Powell pushed after the horsemen, which scattered. A short time later, they would find the leading formation of the entire Confederate Army of the Mississippi – a battalion of Mississippi infantry. Powell, wisely determining his was overpowered pulled back to a new line. Peabody would send him reinforcements, but Powell would retreat to his brigade. Meanwhile, Peabody, hearing the rattle of musketry, went to inform Prentiss of his findings. Prentiss, infuriated that Peabody detached his companies, for such a scouting mission, declared, “I will hold you personally responsible for bringing on this engagement.”(iii) Leaving Prentiss’ headquarters, Peabody would declare that he was responsible for all his official actions.
While Prentiss would declare Peabody’s actions as insubordinate, they would provide him time to quickly form a line of battle. He was soon attacked by Confederate brigades commanded by A.H. Gladden and J.R. Chalmers. Many of his troops would quickly turn, for the rear, but Prentiss was again able to form a line of battle, this time reinforced by Sherman’s Fifth Division and Brigadier General W.H.L. Wallace’s Second Division. They would fight over this position, throughout much of the day, in an area forever known as the Hornet’s Nest.
The Federal army would continue to be pushed back, with its final battle line, at day’s end, along the Pittsburg Landing Road. Reinforced overnight, by US Major General D.C. Buell’s Army of the Ohio, U.S. Grant would rout the Confederate army, now commanded by CS General P.G.T. Beauregard, on April 7. (A.S. Johnston would be killed during the first day’s action.)
Unfortunately, while leading his brigade, Colonel Peabody would be wounded four times – the last of which was a fatal head wound. While his brigade was being overrun, Peabody would encourage his soldiers, “Stand to it yet! Remember Lexington!”(iii) While scorned by his division commander, Peabody’s unauthorized recognizance-in-force saved the day, allowing Prentiss, and to a certain degree, Sherman, to throw together a defensive line. Because of his actions, Colonel Everett Peabody is a true American HERO.
(i) Higginson, Thomas Wentworth, Harvard Memorial Biographies, published 1867, Pg. 152.
(ii) Noirot, Michael, Battle of Shiloh DETAIL, at BattlefieldPortraits.com, manuscript can be read here.
(iii) Cuskey, Perry, Standing to It: Everett Peabody, Part I, manuscript can be read here.