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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#9 of 52)

Waiting for a battle that didn’t come; but suffering disease that did.
On Friday, the 2nd of May, our division commenced the movement toward Corinth. We advanced seven miles without meeting the enemy. A general engagement was confidently expected, and the regiment was under orders to be ready for action at a moment’s notice.
The country around Corinth was covered with very thick forests of oak timber, and had but few improvements. Heavy details for fatigue-duty were sent to the front, who then toiled under the burning sun, constructing corduroy roads over low, marshy ground. In some places double roadways were built, to facilitate the prompt movement of infantry and artillery at the same time.
It is now a standing order for the men to have three days cooked rations in haversacks, as we were liable to be called into action at any moment. Canteens were filled with water. Surgeons always accompanied us with a full supply of instruments for operating among the wounded.
All eyes were now turned in the direction of Corinth. The army, the people, in fact everybody expected that a desperate battle would be fought, and that its results would tell largely toward the future course of the war. But the country seemed to settle down upon the conclusion that Beauregard and his entire force were within the grasp of Halleck, that it would be impossible for him to get away, and that Halleck was waiting his own time to seize upon the coveted prize.       
Drinking the muddy waters of the swamps and marshes around Corinth, toiling and sweating beneath the broiling sun, we engaged in mock battles, fancying in our own minds that we would soon experience the reality. One by one, in quick succession, the men were stricken down by the camp malaria, and borne in silence to their graves. Hospitals were crowded, and steamers went north loaded with the suffering soldiery. The very air which more than 100,000 men daily and hourly drank in was mingled with the foul stench of an unhealthy atmosphere.
Time passed wearily along, and on the 17th of May our columns were again heading toward Corinth. Our division continued to advance until 8 o’clock p.m., when the lines were formed, and the troops then slept on their arms till morning. In our front was an immense cotton field, more than half a mile wide, and beyond there was a dense forest, extending to the rebel lines. When the works were completed, a camp was selected some two hundred yards in the rear of them. We were now under standing orders to wear our accoutrements day and night, and no man able for duty was permitted to be without them.
On the 28th, the troops were ordered into the works. Heavy cannonading commenced on the right, and the line advanced and drove the enemy from a position where our siege-guns, when mounted, could shell the rebel camps. During the next day there was an unusual quiet along the lines. Taking advantage of this our men continued to strengthen the new line. All night there was a constant whistling of railroad engines in Corinth, as though the enemy were removing troops or stores. When day dawned it revealed a dense cloud of smoke rising over the town, and soon after, heavy explosions were heard in quick succession. The enemy were destroying their workshops and magazines, and leaving the town.
That day the 57th received four months’ wages, the greater part of which was sent home by Rev. T. A. Goodwin, who accompanied the paymaster, and was especially designated to take home the money of Indiana soldiers.
On Saturday, the 31st, Wood’s division marched into town, which was almost deserted by the inhabitants, who left with the southern army. Large quantities of commissary stores remained, such as flour, salt, beef, molasses and peas.
(Northern Mississippi, May, 1862)
Excerpts taken from “Annals of the Fifty-Seventh Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry: Marches, Battles, and Incidents of Army Life” written by Asbury L. Kerwood immediately after the war.

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