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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#15)

Prelude to the Battle of Stones River, Tennessee 

“Gen. Buell had been removed, and he was succeeded by Gen. W. S. Rosecrans, who had recently accomplished such brilliant victories in Mississippi. The news was received with delight by the weary men who had followed their former commander on so many fruitless expeditions. The three divisions commanded by Gen. Crittenden were now known as the left wing of the newly named Army of the Cumberland.

“On Thursday, December 4th, there was a general review of Wood’s division by Gen. Rosecrans, who inspected the men very closely, and seemed much interested in their comfort and general welfare. His manners and conduct toward the men was such that, from the very start, he was respected by all his soldiers. ‘I hope to hear a good account from the 57th,’ said the general, as he took his leave of our regiment.

“Our numbers were largely increased by the arrival of one full company of drafted men from Indiana, who had been sent to the 57th by Gov. Morton.

“Gen. Wood’s division commenced a movement, which would finally end in our return to the city of Nashville. When some distance away, the rebels displayed a flag of truce, and Col. Wood, of the 15th, was sent to hold an interview with them. A short distance in the rear of the flag, were several hundred paroled prisoners and these they wished to send through the lines.

“We remained in camp near Nashville just one month, having arrived on the 26th of November, and left on the 26th of December. This was the first incidence in which we had the privilege of remaining more than two weeks in the same camp. While there, our time was mainly employed in drilling, and procuring the necessary clothing and equipment for a winter campaign. Long before daylight on the 26th, the thousands of camp fires that shone brightly throughout the army and the scenes of activity that prevailed, gave evidence that a move of no small importance was just at hand. The men were ordered to carry, besides their guns and equipment, three days’ rations in haversacks, oil-cloths, and overcoats.

“Riding leisurely along, the new general cast a quick glance, first at the men on one side of the road and then on the other. He wore a large cavalry overcoat, and smoked a cigar when not engaged in conversation.

“On Saturday the 27th, our division had the front. The first duty was to dislodge the enemy from the village, where they were strongly posted. Hascall’s brigade formed in line of battle and moved forward; our brigade being massed immediately in their rear. The force now contesting our advance consisted mainly of cavalry, and their resistance was so obstinate that we were until in the evening driving them to and across Stewart’s Creek. Marching through the wet brush, our clothing was thoroughly drenched from the dripping branches, and constant tramping in the mud and water under foot. From a battery posted on the south bank, they kept up a constant fire, which was responded to by our artillery. As our regiment arrived at the brow of the hill, they were perceived by the rebel gunners who fired a shell which passed the entire length of the regiment, just over the heads of the men. But fortunately, it did not explode until it had passed. Had the first shot been fired only a little lower, it would have made great havoc in our regiment.

“The coming darkness soon put an end to the firing, and the men made preparations to pass the night. Large fires were built of rails, which we now used with an unsparing land. In our front was a large cotton field; and near was a house well filled with fine, clean cotton. This was discovered in due time by the men, and large quantities of it were carried up and used for bedding. Gen. Rosecrans rode over near out camp; and seeing the cotton which we had used, remarked, ‘The men can use it for the night, but it must be returned in the morning.’

“On the December 29th, Generals Wood and Crittenden both came forward, and with field-glasses viewed the rebel position. The enemy had been driven back in such haste that it was supposed, by Gen. Rosecrans, they would not attempt to hold the place with any considerable force. On the morning of the 30th however, the rebels were found to be still in position and, instead of preparing for a retreat, had strengthened their line with a strong force of pickets and sharp-shooters.

“We were joined on the right of the pike by troops belonging to Palmer’s division; and the lines thus formed extended on to the west through dense cedar thickets. Our line of battle was near six hundred yards from the line of rifle-pits established by the enemy. Throughout the whole of the day, the 57th remained on the front line in full view of the rebel sharp-shooters, whose balls now and then whistled by our heads, or fell short in the cotton field. Once or twice during the day members of the regiment were struck by spent balls, and slightly bruised. Col. Hines was struck by a Minnie ball that same afternoon. The ball penetrated a memorandum book in his coat pocket on the left side, thus saving him from a severe wound.

“The men of the regiment received no orders for battle - they rarely ever do until it has commenced - though here seemed to be a settled conviction upon the minds of all that they soon would be drowned in the noise of battle. No one now thought of retreating. The Army of the Cumberland would now face the foe upon the field and prove, by deeds of valor, that they could fight.”

(Tennessee, December, 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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