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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#17)

Winter and Spring Encampment 1863 :
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
On the fifth, the troops received two months’ wages, at which time all those present had their accounts with the government settled to the 1st of March preceding. On the 20th of April, Wilder’s brigade of mounted men, Starkweathers’s Brigade, of Rousseau’s division, and our brigade, all under the command of Gen. Reynolds, started on a scout to McMinnville, Liberty, and Alexandria. Being so long confined to our camp, it was a treat to be out once more among the rich vegetation, which everywhere surrounded us as we passed along.

The army had now commenced the use of the “shelter-tent,” which was nothing more than a piece of light canvas, six or seven feet square, with a row of buttons and button holes on three sides by which different pieces could be joined together, and two pieces of rope about four feet in length, to stretch them with. At first they were received with a good deal of ill favor by the soldiers, but their subsequent use has made them one of the most popular items with which the government provided the army. When a soldier is provided with a good shelter-tent and oil cloth, he always has a house with him. One protects him from the rain or sun overhead, and the other from the dampness underfoot.

Preparations were now made for the construction of a place of religious worship. This was situated in the rear of the line of officers’ tents. It is a circular tent built of poles and cedar bushes. A stand was erected inside, which was very neatly trimmed with evergreen, and a suitable inscription placed on the front. Comfortable seats of plank were arranged to fill all the remaining space. Ours was the most beautiful place of worship in that part of the army. Services were held regularly every Sabbath by our own chaplain, or by other ministers who happen to be present. During the week, nightly prayer meetings were held.
The army has now settled down to the monotony of constant and thorough discipline. Rations were plenty; and men not on picket duty were subject to six or eight hours’ drill each day. Besides the time allotted for drill and other duties, there was still much unoccupied time in camp. Card playing was, with the majority, the favorite pastime and there were few who did not engage in it for amusement or gambling. Orders still existed preventing men from gambling though they were executed with no sense of duty or moral obligation. Card playing for amusement was no more prohibited than the eating of rations, and was engaged in by both officers and men. Men who persisted in gambling usually assembled in small groups in the woods, at some distance from the camp, where they might enjoy the exciting game unmolested. On one occasion, a party of considerable size from various regiments had assembled in the woods in front of our camp; and were enjoying the fun hugely. Guards on duty were instructed to arrest all such men when discovered; but the cunning gamblers always had someone inform them of the approach of the guard, and invariably made their escape. On the occasion referred to above, the guards were formed into a company and, as if going on drill moved out to where the gamblers were assembled. Unnoticed by them, the guards deployed as skirmishers and completely surrounded them, then facing inward; they charged and captured the entire party, who were forthwith marched off to headquarters.

Our camps were flooded with a class of miserable, worthless literature in the shape of novels, which were sold by the thousand, for the sole purpose of making money. The men were offered the chance of paying one dollar for three worthless novelettes, which contained a love story or some daring adventure by sea or land. Thousands of these light and chaffy publications were sent to our troops through the news agents, and the minds of the men were so poisoned that they almost corned the idea of reading a book or journal which contained matter that would benefit their minds. To offset this enormous and rapidly increasing evil, the Christian Commission furnished their reading-rooms with the best reading matter that could be procured. Any soldier could enter their rooms and read such books and papers as were found on their tables. In this manner, men who were desirous of evading the currents of immorality could find the proper means by which their spare time might be improved.

But time wore on. Winter and spring passed away.

The enemy now occupied Tullahoma and Shelbyville, and the march of our corps was intended as a flank movement, which would have placed us on the right flank of the rebel army had not the weather and the impassable state of the roads caused a delay in our march. We were not yet beyond the camps at Murfreesboro when it commenced raining and continued for several days and nights. We had been so long in camp and become so accustomed to putting on style by wearing polished shoes and paper collars, that the mud and rain was quite a contrast to the manner in which we had lived for some time.

We marched early, passed through Bradyville, a small village containing about a half dozen rickety buildings, a few ugly women, and several dirty-faced children, who stared at us as we waded through the muddy streets in the pelting rain. The wet weather impeded our progress so much that the enemy gained information of our movements, and made good their escape from Tullahoma and Shelbyville.

Exhausted by continuous and, to us, fruitless marches on the same road, the men indulged in expressing their dissatisfaction at so much marching and counter-marching, which availed nothing, and might all have been prevented by a little understanding and forethought among commanders. On July 5th, glorious news was received from our army in the east. Our battery fired salutes upon the reception of the news that Grant had taken Vicksburg. Loud and prolonged cheering resounded throughout our camps; and the drooping spirits of our army were revived by the cheering intelligence. The next day, being a day of thanksgiving, set apart by the President, to commemorate the recent victories of the Federal arms, services were held in the grove and were attended by the entire command.

We were now once more on the eve of an important campaign.

(Tennessee, February to July, 1863)

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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