Glowing Soldiers of the Battle of Shiloh

The mystery behind how wounded soldiers at the battle of shiloh began to glow from their wounds.


By Mathew Brady - This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 524768., Public Domain,

Original Photo of Union and Confederate soldiers at a field hospital

It’s the crisp twilight of April 7th 1862 A soldier lays on the muddy battlefields of Shiloh and around him are dozens of comrades and dozens more of his adversaries, in the distance gunshots and cannon fire still sound, but here all is quiet, the only sound is of the of the wounded as they lay in wait for the medics to come, but help is long off. The day slips into night and the wounded soldiers look around and notice a strange phenomenon; a magnificent blue glow was radiating from their wounds.

Confederate reenactors portray battles of the American Civil War.

The battle of Shiloh was one of the bloodiest battles in the American Civil War resulting in over 23,000 casualties and a Union victory. Confederate forces had an opportunity to launch a surprise attack on Union forces at Pittsburg landing (Shiloh) Tennessee but neither side was fully prepared for the carnage that was about to occur. The first day of the battle both armies fought relentlessly resulting in more wounded then could be tended to. By the end of the day thousands of wounded soldiers were left on the damp muddy field. Many would die that night waiting for help to arrive, but some of those who survived began glowing from their wounds. The next day help had finally arrived and medics from both sides started dragging those who survived to makeshift field hospitals mostly houses, barns and in some cases flat ground with some tree cover. Throughout the coming days the doctors treating the soldiers found that those that had the glow from there wounds had a much higher survival rate than those without. Word spread among the armies of this strange phenomenon, the soldiers believed that God heard the pleas of the dying men on the field and sent his Angels to heal them, saving them from an untimely death. This was then dubbed among the men as “Angels Glow”.

A 10lb (3in bore) Parrott Rifled Cannon at sunrise at Gettysburg National Military Park

The mystery behind “Angels Glow” went unknown for years, many theories have arisen but none could fully match up with the stories of the soldiers on that day. In 2001 a 17 year old high school student by the name of Bill Martin heard about the story and like many others wanted an explanation. He consulted his mother who was a microbiologist. She told him that she studied a soil bacterium called Photorhabdus Luminescens or P. Lumines, a bioluminescent that gives off a pale blue in color glow. The only issue with this is that P. Lumines can’t survive in an environment of normal human body temp. After much research and experiments they concluded that these P. Lumines possibly were able to survive because in the cool, wet, muddy ground of Shiloh the wounded soldiers body temp lowered; some even had cases of hypothermia. This makes a perfect environment for the P. Lumines to live in which would cause the glow. P. Lumins also eat bacteria which would give the soldiers a higher chance of survival. This is the most popular and widely accepted theory, but like most phenomenon there’s really no way of knowing what exactly happened that spring night in 1861.