Melville's "Shiloh: A Requiem" depicts one of the bloodiest battles in the history of American warfare. Fought near Pittsburg Landing in southern Tennessee, the two-day battle (April 6-7, 1862) left over 23,000 men killed, wounded or missing.
The misery of the battle is vividly represented in James Lee McDonough's Shiloh: In Hell Before Night: "The rain came slowly at first, then gradually fell harder and harder until it beat against the ground in torrents. Continuing through most of the night, the downpour was accompanied by a cold, chilling wind that swept the battlefield. An intense darkness was broken only by flashes of lightning and the fuses of shells in the sky momentarily illuminating scenes of wasted humanity. Every fifteen minutes, all night long, a gun on each of the Union gunboats roared from the Tennessee River, sending two giant 8-inch shells arching toward the Confederate lines, their red fuses lighting up the starless night for a brief instant before they came screaming down, exploding and scattering fragments of iron in all directions...Many of the wounded, Confederate and Union, were spending an agonizing night--the last night some would ever know--in the blackness between the lines of the armies. As the flashes of lightning lit the fields and the rolling timberland, they found themselves alone, except for the other wounded and innumerable bodies of the dead." (pp. 184-185).
"Shiloh" is the third song of Rickelton's cycle Battle Songs.
by Herman Melville
Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh -
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched one stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh -
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foemen mingled there -
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve -
Fame or country least their care
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.