The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#19)
The Battle of Lookout Mountain
“Friday, October 30th, was a rainy, uncomfortable day, followed by a night of almost impenetrable darkness. That night our steamboat ran the gauntlet, and passed the rebel batteries unharmed, proceeding on down the river for rations. On this and another boat supplies for the entire army in Chattanooga were transported to the north-western extremity of Moccasin Point, and from there were conveyed across the point to town. For some time previous to the completion of this enterprise, rations became very scarce. Some days we were restricted to one third the usual allowance. But General Thomas had sent word to General Grant that ‘we would hold Chattanooga or starve.’
“When the rebel army had commenced the investment of Chattanooga, and their lines were drawn closer to our own on the south side of the river. The firing between the pickets, and needless sacrifice of life, was brought to a close by an agreement made under a flag of truce, and for some time the sound of musketry firing was seldom heard. Each day our men went to the front and cut wood, and the wagons came out in full view of the rebel pickets to load. One day, when our regiment was on the line, some boys from the camp came out to procure wood; and as there were but few trees standing, one of them cut a tree that stood near the line. Unfortunately it fell with the body and top outside. Stepping over the line and mounting the log, he commenced chopping. When a rebel picket, who was watching him through the bushes, ordered him to stop and re-cross the line. Much as he disliked to obey the order of a “gray-back,” he was compelled to yield, for he was on neutral ground. Reluctantly the Yank shouldered his ax, and uttering a silent blessing toward the exacting rebel, returned inside the lines.
“We had now been two months in Chattanooga, with the enemy closely stationed around us. The 15th Corps, Army of the Tennessee, commanded by General Sherman, had marched from Memphis, and were approaching to join in the brilliant campaign soon to commence by the three armies combined, under the direction of General Grant. Our division was reviewed by General Sheridan on Sunday (November) the 15th, who appeared well pleased with the appearance and discipline of his new command.
“The advance of our troops was contemplated for Saturday morning at daylight, November 21st. The night before, the captain called me to his quarters and addressed me as follows, ‘Issue eighty rounds of ammunition to each man; have the canteens filled, haversacks packed, and hold them in readiness to move at a moment’s warning.’
“We were ordered to form in the rear of our picket-lines before daybreak to attack the rebels. But instead of marching orders, there came a dashing rain which continued until noon. Our movements depended upon those of General Sherman, who was moving up on the north side of the river, and all were delayed on account of the heavy rain.
“Monday, November 23rd came in cloudy and cool. The regiments of our brigade formed and marched to the front. In the rear of each regiment were men carrying litters, on which to bear away the wounded. We took a position on a high knoll, in full view of the enemy. Beyond were the dim outlines of the rebel pickets, wrapped in their gray blankets. From the top of Mission Ridge, where stood the white tents of the rebel headquarters, Bragg could, with a glass, watch all our movements. Skirmishers were deployed in front of the column, and when they neared the enemy’s line of pickets delivered a volley. The rebels then turned and commenced a retreat, fighting from behind tress and stumps as they gave way before our troops. The men on our left marched bravely to the fight, and in short time drove the enemy from their front and took possession of Orchard Knob. Our division was detained on the line until the left moved forward, in order to turn the right of the rebel line and loosen their hold on the river; all of which was successfully accomplished. Battery “G”, 4th Regular Artillery, was now moved forward to the rear of our brigade, and opened fire. In a short time they were replied to by a rebel battery, which shelled us vigorously for a time. Thus closed the first day’s operations.
“During the night we threw up a strong line of works; and when day dawned it found us ready for the fray. Morning came foggy, rainy, cold, and disagreeable. General Grant decided upon a strike at another point on the line, so we had but little else to do but look and listen. After a short time, a bang, bang, bang was heard right at the foot of Lookout Mountain. Few and scattered at first, they soon increased until whole volleys of musketry were distinctly heard. Louder still came the deafening roar, in thunder tones, from the great dogs of war on Moccasin Point until it seemed as if the very mountain would be torn to pieces.
“Slowly but surely our men pressed the enemy up and around the eastern base of the mountain. The cannonading and musketry were kept up continually. Our column now charged the enemy, and drove them from a line of works above the mountain base. A heavy cloud veiled the mountain crest from our view, and in half an hour more General Hooker was fighting above the clouds. When our column disappeared behind the clouds, our heavy guns ceased firing, but the cheering and the charging went on. Until midnight the red flashes of musketry were plainly visible. The mountain is covered by a rocky barrier with perpendicular sides forty or fifty feet high, and it was at the foot of this inaccessible ledge that our troops were compelled to halt at midnight.
“During the night, the enemy evacuated their position on the mountain, leaving their artillery to fall into the hands of our troops. When the sun gilded the eastern horizon, and cast a halo of golden light upon vale and mountain, it smiled upon the “Star Spangled Banner,” waving in triumph from the northern crest of Lookout Mountain. A thrill of joy went down our lines when it was announced that Sherman had succeeded in crossing the Tennessee River at the mouth of Chickamauga Creek, and was then with a heavy force posted on and near the north end of Mission Ridge.
“At 8 o’clock the next morning, the 57th went out to perform picket duty two hundred yards in front of the line of works. We were now in plain view from the ridge, and had occupied our position but a few moments when the rebels opened upon us with artillery posted on the ridge. A sergeant in Battery “G” said that he could count thirty-two pieces of artillery on the ridge.
“As we expected, Sherman commenced his attack at 9 o’clock and soon the battle raged on the extreme left. An hour later we advanced to within one mile of the ridge. As the day wore away, General Grant grew anxious and decided to carry the line of rebel works at the foot of the ridge. In our front was a level plain one mile wide and at the eastern end was a line of rebel works. Six hundred yards up the steep and rugged ridge was the rebel artillery.
“The shortest road to victory was in storming the ridge and piercing their center. Hundreds of those who started would never reach the top, but the position would be carried. For a few moments there was a dead silence, a momentary calm before the storm. We were given five minutes to prepare for the charge. We knew their position, they knew ours, and what was now to be done must be done in earnest. The 57th was deployed five paces apart, two hundred yards in front of the brigade, and it was ours to make the start.
“A volley of six guns was the signal for our advance, and their echoes came bouncing back over the plain. We rose from the ground and moved forward on the double-quick. As we neared the rebel works, panting with fatigue, the enemy left them and retreated toward the top. A cheer announced the result as we dropped behind the works. On the ridge the enemy had sixty pieces of artillery. Soon the line of battle came upon them when we scaled the works and moved toward the top.
“Language would fail to describe, in all its terrific grandeur, the scene which now followed. Imagine the ridge lined with cannon as close as they could be worked, hurling from their brazen throats a relentless shower of grape, canister, and shell; with a line of musketry to add to their fire. Long lines of battle, with colors fluttering in the breeze, were moving forward to join in the assault. Onward and upward moved the column, step by step, amid the whistling of bullets, shrieking of shells, and the horrid whizzing of grape that sounded like ten thousand infuriated demons just loosened from pandemonium with a wail that would freeze the very blood in our veins. The fire grew hotter and the line was at a stand-still. Now an officer gave command to fall back to the line of works at the foot of the ridge. As we turned to go down the hill, the rebels yelled “Chickamauga” at us with a vengeance.
“We now saw that our charge was just made to draw the enemy’s fire until the other columns could get well under way. A second line of battle now comes up, and again the order comes to charge the ridge. Some were marching to victory, others to death. The very earth seemed to tremble beneath the awful carnage. The lurid flashes of artillery and musketry blazed forth anew. Slowly and steadily our line moved to the second assault.
“Over the ramparts floated the blood-red flag of treason and beneath it stood a line of traitors dealing out death and destruction. Brave men are dying. Hundreds have fallen and their groans mingle in strange harmony with the noise of battle. The brave men move forward until they cross steel with the foe. The rebel line begins to waver. That traitor flag that has floated there so tauntingly begins to lower. In vain the rebel officers urge their men to stand fast. The tide of battle is turning; rebel desperation is about yielding to loyal valor. Our flag goes on to the top and the ridge is ours. Then such a scene. Shouts of victory, greeting of comrades, and calls for companies and regiments to reform, for in the fight we were badly scattered.
“The enemy reformed on a high hill half a mile from the ridge. We charged that, but they gave way as we moved up; and at the top of the hill we halted. After a while, fires were kindled and we got some warm coffee. At midnight we pushed after the enemy. They were completely routed.
“The road leading away was strewn with implements of war all the way to Chickamauga, where we arrived just before daylight. The bridge was in flames, and here our pursuit ended. The loss to our little 57th regiment was ninety-four officers and men killed and wounded.
(Tennessee, October and November, 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.