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Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#18)

The Chattanooga Campaign
“For some time Gen. Rosecrans had occupied Winchester as his headquarters, while the main body of his troops were stationed near Bridgeport. A forward movement commenced about the middle of August, with Chattanooga as the objective. On Sunday, the 16th (of August), Wagner’s brigade received orders to march immediately, and as soon as the usual bustle and uproar of the hasty preparation could be executed, we were under way.

“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.

“The following Saturday morning Gen. Wagner advanced with the remaining regiments to the summit overlooking the Tennessee Valley. Seven miles down the river lay the mountain-walled city of Chattanooga. Beyond and to the right, Lookout Mountain rose abruptly from the river to an altitude of two thousand feet. Immediately on the left rises Missionary Ridge, to less than half the height of Lookout Mountain, and extends from the river far down Chickamauga Valley.

“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.

“On Saturday, the 29th (of August), Gen. Wagner, with Cox’s battery, the 40th (Indiana), and the 57th, descended the mountain and approached the town. The main body of the army crossed the Tennessee at Bridgeport. Heavy cannonading could now be heard every day at some point on the river.

“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.

“On the following morning the soldiers engaged in a general stroll through the town. Many of the citizens had gone away, but there were some loyal people, and these remained in their homes. As soon as I finished my breakfast, I started in search of the office where a noted rebel sheet, called the “Chattanooga Rebel,” had recently been published. I was directed to the place, and found the vacated apartments of the late rebel quill-driver, in the second story of a building on the west side of Main Street. Upon entering, I found the press still standing, Ink, type, books, manuscripts, etc. lay scattered about the floor. Copies of rebel sheets, from various parts of the south were to be found in large numbers.

“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.

“On Saturday, September 19th, the news was received that a battle was going on in front, but the rumors were so conflicting that it was a difficult matter to obtain the position of our army, or any definite information concerning the engagement.

“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.

“(At the same time) an almost constant stream of ambulances and baggage wagons were coming from the front. A large brick residence on a hill south-east of our quarters was now nearly filled with wounded. The sidewalks were filled with the wounded and stragglers.

“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.

“As soon as our men were in position, the work of building entrenchments commenced. All citizens and straggling soldiers found on the streets without passes were arrested and sent to the front under guard, where they were compelled to work on the entrenchments. There was no cessation of labor until the line was in readiness to meet any advance of the foe. Heavy cannonading continued all day on Monday and was recommenced on Tuesday; when the enemy drew their lines closely around Chattanooga. During that afternoon and evening, the enemy gained entire possession of Missionary Ridge, and at night their campfires could be distinctly seen from our own camp.

“Wednesday morning dawned dark and foggy, and it was expected the enemy would seize the opportunity and make an attack. A battle was expected every minute. Our brigade marched out and took position as a reserve on the left of our lines. No attack was made however. On Thursday, the rebels gained possession of Lookout Mountain, and made preparations to shell the town. So many stories had been in circulation since the defeat (at Chickamauga) that we began to conclude that the Army of the Cumberland was to be left alone to battle with the concentrated forces of the enemy until complete destruction ensued.

“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.

“On the 20th of October, Gen. Rosecrans took leave of the army and started north, he having been relieved by Gen. Thomas. No little dissatisfaction was expressed at his removal. This disappointment was in a measure relieved by the announcement that Gen. Grant had been assigned to command and would personally superintend operations in the field. On the 28th, Gen. Grant arrived at Chattanooga; and the presence of so successful and popular a general inspired the troops with new courage.”

(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.

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