The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#18)
The Chattanooga Campaign
“We came across one of the most fertile regions of the sunny South shut in by two mountain barriers. Richly cultivated fields; orchards filled with fruit dotted the entire valley. Descending by the rough mountain road, we entered the valley, and camped close by the foot of the mountain. Apples, peaches, corn, beans, potatoes, etc. were easily found; and there were few messes that did not enjoy the rich products of the valley that night. On Thursday the 20th, our brigade, leaving all the baggage and part of the battery, moved across the valley toward Chattanooga.
“We could see the smoke of the rebel camps south of the river, and occasionally a train of cars might be seen gliding along beneath the white steam as it approached the great center of rebel military operations. Liby’s battery, moved down the valley to a ridge opposite Chattanooga, and commenced shelling the place. In a few moments the smoke was seen to rise from a fort beyond the river, and we could see the shells explode before we heard the report caused by the discharge of the rebel guns.
“At midnight on Saturday, September 6th, our regiment was ordered down into the valley. Railroad engines were almost constantly running, and it was supposed that the enemy were evacuating Chattanooga. Our artillery shelled almost continually during the day, and on the 8th it was reported that our forces had possession of Lookout Mountain. Movements then in progress by Mc Cook’s Corps, endangered their rear and caused the rebel withdrawal, which gave us possession of the long wished-for stronghold, Chattanooga.
“Some of the boys made their way to the express office and found a quantity of tobacco, together with hundreds of letters. In one bundle, containing sixteen letters, was a correspondence between a doctor and a young lady of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with whom he seemed to have been on the most intimate terms until the breaking out of the war, when she informed him that as he ‘defended southern interests,’ she claimed the privilege of defending the interests of the north; and that they must then and ‘forever be strangers and enemies.’
“Wagner’s brigade, being small in numbers, was assigned to garrison duty in Chattanooga. Col. Lennard was appointed provost-marshal; and the 57th was assigned to duty as provost-guards (e.g. military police), and the other regiments to picket duty. Order was restored soon after we took possession of the town. Prisoners and deserters arrived almost daily from the front, who invariably concurred in the opinion that the rebel army would continue their retreat as far south as Rome, Georgia. As our regiment was now small in number, guards were roused every morning and marched to the depot, from which they were distributed to the various posts throughout the town.
“The next day at 12 o’clock the order was given for all every man to report to the depot. Prisoners were arriving in large numbers, and required all of our available force to guard them. Many of the prisoners were from Longstreet’s Corps, late of the rebel army in Virginia. These men were better clothed than the soldiers of Bragg’s army. They had always, till now, been used to victory, and were loud in their abuse of our men who had them in charge. Some of them openly declared that before the sun set on Monday, Bragg would be in Chattanooga. Many rumors had reached us to the effect that our army had been overpowered by the arrival of heavy re-enforcements from Lee’s army, but until we saw them, all had dared to hope that the story would prove untrue. Now there was no uncertainty, for the rebel authorities had detached Longstreet’s Corps and transported them westward by rail and thrown them against our lines with the intention to regaining possession of Chattanooga.
“Our troops under Thomas, Garfield, Granger, Wood, and others had succeeded in holding the enemy in check beyond the hamlet of Rossville, which gave time for the withdrawal of our army and the occupation of the new line. Sunday night was a time of fearful suspense to our little garrison in Chattanooga. Rumors were everywhere that we would be compelled to evacuate, and leave our wounded in the hands of the enemy. The next morning, the booming of artillery in the direction of Rossville Gap announced that the enemy was continuing the pursuit of our forces; and before noon we could see the lines of battle as our troops took up their final position near the town.
“But at last a ray of hope dawned. Fully alive to the importance of holding Chattanooga, the Government, immediately after the disastrous battle of Chickamauga, commenced the movement of troops in our direction. The 11th and 12th Corps, commanded by Gen. Hooker, were on the Tennessee River. Their timely arrival caused a trill of joy among the anxious men of our beleaguered army in Chattanooga.
(Tennessee, August to October, 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.