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Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#16)

The Battle of Stones River, Tennessee
“Before the dawn of day, on the morning of the memorable 31st of December, 1862, the troops of our division had been aroused from their slumbers on the damp ground, and were cooking, many of them, their last meal by the dimly burning camp fires. A heavy fog hung like a pall around us, and completely hid from our view the lines of the enemy. The morning was chilly and the men stood shivering in the cold, impatiently waiting the moment for action.

“Early in the morning, the 57th Indiana moved forward and occupied a position at the front; the 15th Indiana on the left, and the 40th Indiana and the 97th Ohio on the rear line. The entire line covering our brigade was in charge of Lt. Colonel Lennard, who was at the front at the time of the attack, and directed the movements of our advanced companies. As the dense cloud of fog commenced rising, and the genial rays of the morning sun came pouring through, the commanding general was seen to make his appearance in the rear of our line, deliver a few words to his subordinates, and then gallop off toward the right, followed by his escort.

“Immediately there is activity among the troops. Commanders of the brigades, regiments, and companies take their places and the command ‘attention!’ is repeated from one to the other until it reaches the men, who spring to their places in line. Colors are unfurled, batteries are limbered, and in less time than it has required describing their movements, the forces are ready for action.

“There is almost profound quiet when the order to advance was given. We had not moved forward more than twenty or thirty paces when the pattering sound of muskets could be heard distinctly on the right. Instantly it increased to sharp volleys, and in a moment it was mingled with yells, which we knew were not from our own men.

“Soon a stream of demoralized soldiers and non-combatants emerged from the woods on the right and broke to the rear. They were quickly followed by ambulances, battery caissons, and loose horses until there was one dense mass of commotion. Closely following after the rabble that first commenced leaving the field, came hundreds of soldiers rushing by in confused masses and, to appearances, entirely destitute of all regard for anything save their own personal safety. Now and then we could see an officer or soldier who was using all his efforts to induce his comrades to halt and to reform their lines. But all was of no avail.

“The line composed of the 57th and 15th Indiana was now withdrawn to the belt of timber in our rear. It seemed that our line, which had thus far remained firm, must soon be enveloped in surging waves of confusion that rolled around us. ‘What regiment was that?’ said Col. Hines, as one of the retreating battalions was hurrying on by. ‘15th Kentucky,’ was shouted from their ranks, and they hastened onward with increasing steps.’ I want every man in MY regiment to stay with ME, and when I run then I want you to run,’ continued the colonel, as he viewed the heart-sickening scene which was going on around us. Not a man stirred from his place in the ranks of the 57th. They only waited the moment for action with breathless suspense. But where are our generals? Where now is our commander-in-chief? We could not believe that no one could bring order out of such as scene as this.

“Already the storm of battle was bursting around us. Brave men were fighting hand to hand with the overpowering force of the enemy. Rebel shells and bullets were whistling and whizzing around, and our only hope was to secure and hold a position. Soon a battery got into position and commenced shelling the advancing forces of the enemy. The 57th moved to the corner of the woods and laid down near the battery to await the onset of the enemy who were re-massing their infantry. A constant sheet of fire streamed from the mouth of our guns, and in vain the rebels rushed forward with maddened fury. But all their mad attempts were fruitless, and they finally retired.

“‘Ah, I mow’d ‘em, I mor’n mow’d ‘em,’ said Capt. Cox. ‘I guess them fellows don’t want my battery as bad as they did. If I had ammunition I could keep all the rebels back that could come before us.’ Already the battery had fired sixteen hundred rounds; but their supply was now exhausted, and the brave Cox was enraged at the thought of being compelled to remain silent at the next rebel onset. The colonel told him that he thought the infantry could hold them back if they should come before he could get a new supply of ammunition.

“Events were transpiring further to our right at the same time that we were so successful in checking the advances of the enemy in our own front. Preparations were made to repel the advance of the enemy from among the dense thickets. But coming upon our troops in the midst of a thick fog and with the regiments massed in columns, the enemy succeeded in making a complete surprise, capturing many of our men and driving the others in confusion from the field. They were jubilant with the victory so easily won; and well might the rebel masses move forward confident that the entire field would soon be in their possession, and the Army of the Cumberland either surrendered or commence a demoralizing retreat toward Nashville. But the victory, or what appeared as such to them, was only momentary. Every cannon, musket, and rifle on our hastily formed lines, contained a deadly missile.

“All was quiet along our lines as the enemy’s column emerged from a cedar thicket into the open ground. Forward came the rebel lines in splendid order; marching with hot haste to consummate their daring purpose and crush or little band. A sheet of deadly flame burst forth from the line of muskets, carrying death and destruction in its pathway. ‘Now let the line advance,’ said General Rosecrans. Before the enemy had time to recover from the shock, and with a cheer, we sprang forward on the charge, driving the enemy back to their shelter in the forest. The 57th was moved forward a short distance into the open ground where we laid down to avoid the rebel shells which were coming thick and fast from the batteries of the enemy. Hardly had the regiment reached their new position when a shell entered the ranks of Company F and tore off the right arm of one of the men, then exploded under him, turning him upside down, and shattering one of his legs. The wounded man was carried a short distance to the rear and laid in the woods. Medical assistance, which might have saved his life, was far beyond our reach, and the brave fellow soon after died.

“Bending low to shelter ourselves as much as possible, and also to hide our movements, the line moved slowly forward. The whole regiment now laid down in a cotton field and orders were given for no one to fire until the rebel line advanced so close that the entire regiment could deliver a destructive volley. Many were the petitions of the men to be allowed to fire on them, but the colonel was determined in his purpose and repeated the order for every gun to be kept silent until the order to fire was given by him. Closer still the columns approached, raised their well known yell and dashed forward. Our colonel commanded ‘attention! ready! FIRE!’ A deadly volley of musketry was poured into them. When the cloud of smoke was lifted, the disordered and crippled foe was rushing backwards, and the spot where they met our murderous reception was covered with their dead or disabled comrades. No more effective volley was delivered during that eventful day than the first one from the ranks of the 57th Indiana.

“Temporary lulls in the fierce engagements were succeeded by the renewal of the struggle with redoubled fury. Occasionally during the rest of the afternoon, our regiment made some movement of but a few rods and then resumed its position on the ground, as did all the troops on the field. On our part of the field we had no shelter except such as could be afforded by taking advantage of the ground. Slowly the hours passed as we lay on the cold earth, the air filled with whizzing shells or solid shot. We were anxious for night to come, for the progress of events plainly told us that night alone would put an end to the conflict.

“Eventually the regiment was ordered to the rear. As the regiment was moving, a rebel shell struck a man in Company D in the back, and passed through his body, exploding just as he fell upon it, blowing him almost to atoms. A portion of his arms were blown twenty or thirty feet into the air.

“Information was received that the enemy was preparing for one more powerful effort to drive us from our position. ‘They are bringing up their last reserve,’ said Col. Lennard, who was sitting on his horse and viewing their movements. ‘If we can only hold them this time, the day is ours.’

The 15th and 57th were now ordered to meet the advancing columns, by a counter charge. We immediately rose to our feet and moved forward on the double-quick, at the same time delivering a sharp volley into the rebels, hundreds of whom threw down their arms while others retreated in disorder. When the enemy was repulsed, we laid down again in our places, and the artillery commenced firing over our heads. In a few minutes, the fire of not less than eighteen pieces of artillery was concentrated upon our two regiments. We had advanced so far that we were then exactly in their range.

“Until now, Col. Hines had remained seated upon his horse, and although he made several very narrow escapes, he was, strangely enough, still unhurt. Now he became a fair target for the guns of the enemy and they commenced shooting at him, he being the only member of the regiment in the enemy’s view. He was repeatedly urged to dismount to all of which he replied, I’m not going to be hit; don’t be alarmed about me.’ Presently a shell came so near that it almost grazed him. ‘Well, if that’s the way they are going to shoot, I’ll get down,’ said he; and just as he touched the ground another passed just above the saddle, which would have torn him to pieces had he remained one moment longer. He now stood a few minutes beside the horse, when a shell struck him just above the left knee, which threw him to the ground in an instant. Many at first supposed he was killed, but he soon recovered his self-possession. When the storm of battle was raging, with confusion, demoralization, and defeat staring us in the face, it was that calmness and undaunted bravery of our commander shown forth in all its splendor.

“The enemy, exasperated by the failure of the last effort to drive us from our position, together with the loss of a large number of their men, now commenced a fire from their artillery, which even surpassed all their previous efforts. An almost uninterrupted storm of iron hail was poured upon and around us. The 15th had now commenced moving back, and we were left all alone. In response to every rebel missile that came whizzing over us, our guns sent a quick reply. With Capt. Stidham now in command of the left wing, the regiment was finally withdrawn to a place of safety. The continued fire of the rebel artillery and the presence of so many new recruits increased the disorder until we had retired beyond reach of imminent danger. For ten long hours we had been under deadly fire, had both our field officers and several company officers severely wounded; and nearly one hundred men killed, wounded, and captured.

“As night came on, the roar of battle died away and the two armies, worn out with hard fighting and heavy losses, welcomed the darkness that invited a cessation of the bloody conflict. Until near morning fires were not allowed, and during a considerable portion of the night, we were obliged to stand in line of battle. Some men had mingled freely with the enemy during the night, on the ground where the killed and wounded of both armies lay. Some of the members of our regiment were rescued from the place where they laid during the day. Slowly dragged the weary hours until morning when the order was received to move. Marching some three quarters of a mile to the rear, our arms were again stacked and large rail-fires built, at which we warmed ourselves and cooked our breakfast.

“The terrible struggle of the previous day had satisfied the enemy that we could and would fight, and though they had well nigh succeeded in their attempt to take us unawares, there were still men to contest their advances toward Nashville. The last day of 1862 will long be remembered by the men who composed the Army of the Cumberland.”

(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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