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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

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

The Battle of Perryville
“It was near 2 o’clock A.M. when I lay down, and when I awoke, the morning sun was peering through the branches. On looking up I discovered that the tree under which I slept so soundly was interwoven with grape vines, and that the lower branches were covered with rich clusters. Hastily rolling my blanket, I secured a number of the bunches and then set out for the regiment. Along the route I partook of a breakfast of crackers and grapes. Fortunately, we did not have to march until noon, and that gave time to rest, and for those who were still behind to overtake their companies.

“Before starting, Col. Hines called the company commanders together and told them that, when we left, there would be nine miles to water; and that to get it we should have to fight, as the enemy occupied the ground at that time. Canteens were all filled, and at noon we were all under way, fully impressed with the conviction that we were now about to fight “for water.”

 “We soon came out into the main road leading to Perryville; and it required but a glance to convince us that there was business ahead. Small parties of mounted men were galloping up and down the road; orderlies were dashing to and fro; and the very air seemed to say the long stillness was about to be broken by the noise of battle. We were still nearly seven miles from the field. A burning sun shone upon us, and the columns of moving men were covered with clouds of dust. But there was no rest; mile was added to mile, and still no halt. At last we neared the field, and away on the left we could hear the occasional pattering of carbines.
“Our hurried walk changed to a quicker pace; and at the end of a seven-mile heat we ascended a hill, from where we could see our lines of battle. My pen fails when I attempt to describe the march of the last seven miles. In many places the road was filled with wagons and ambulances, which made the march still more fatiguing. The long looked for moment arrived, and the halt was sounded. Covered with dust and dripping with sweat, the men sunk upon the ground. Almost choked with dust, I turned my canteen for a drink, and took one swallow; but it tasted almost boiling hot, I had carried it so far in the burning sun.

“Upon reaching the line of battle, which was formed across the road, we filed to the left and marched some distance where we found a gap in our lines. We immediately went into line of battle, and there was still a vacancy of half a mile between Wagner’s brigade and the troops on our left. Just as we got into position the enemy were discovered by our skirmishers moving forward to penetrate the open space and overpower the troops on our left. Col. Wagner was ordered to take his brigade and battery, move with all possible haste, and occupy the hill which the enemy was then attempting to gain, and hold it.

“Again we were in motion - now no longer a march, nor double-quick - an actual race - to see which should first reach the hill. Keeping all but the line of skirmishers behind the ridge that rose between us and the advancing column of the enemy, we rushed forward to seize the position. Now the excitement of the field came on, without which we could not have been successful in the movement we were taking. It was a time of fearful suspense. One thing only could save us from a hard fight, and that was our success in gaining the position; for if the enemy gained it first, they could ruin our lines, unless driven from it.

“For some moments it was doubtful which would first reach the hill; but the gunners of Cox’s battery were on the ground, and tearing away a fence, two of their parrot guns were quickly in position, and just as the enemy were seen ascending a ridge - the last one between them and the hill - the guns opened fire, sending into their ranks such a storm of shell that they gave up the project, and retired behind the ridge. While Cox was getting his guns ready, the infantry were formed in line of battle, and every preparation made to repel a charge. It was very evident that our success in first reaching the hill was to them a sore disappointment, and the murderous fire from Cox’s battery was a sufficient  warning to them that we had no intention of yielding it to them as long as we had men to defend it.
“The enemy opened on us with a battery, firing a few rounds of shell, but they were soon silenced when all the guns of our battery were got into position. Our line moved forward just before dark, and occupied the ridge which had been held by the rebels, they having withdrawn beyond the reach of our guns. Here we found the knap-sacks of the 24th Mississippi, which had been thrown aside preparatory to making a charge on the hill. We learned from prisoners that the fire from Cox’s artillery made considerable havoc in their ranks.
“Just before dark the hard fighting commenced in front of Mc Cook’s Corps, and from our position we could see the fire from both our own and the rebel artillery. In the dreadful struggle which took place at dusk we could plainly hear the rebels yell, though no movement was made in our front, where our entire corps was in line of battle. Everyone expected a hard battle on the next day, and the importance of the enemy’s movement on our left flank was then unknown to us. That night the 57th stood picket in front of our position, the line of the regiment being in a corn field and woods which joined each other at that point. After dark, details were sent to the rear to make coffee for the men at the front. Water was procured from a pool which lay in the rear of the last position we had taken.
“Morning dawned, Thursday, October 9th, but there was no battle. We could see the enemy taking their artillery from the field and one of our guns was used to shell them; but the brigade was soon after moved to the right and rear where, as Col. Wagner supposed, “we would be out of danger.” About 8 o’clock P.M., we were ordered forward, and moved down the road leading toward Perryville, in columns of companies, until we had reached the suburbs of the village when we marched in by file and took possession of the place. Plenty of dead rebels lay scattered around, not far from where we halted; and some of the boys found live ones on the field, who were asleep when their army retreated, and were not aroused by their own comrades.”

(Kentucky, October 8-9, 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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