The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#21)
The Atlanta Campaign Begins - Battle of Resaca, Georgia
“After the defeat of Bragg’s army at Missionary Ridge, it fell back in great disorder to Dalton, where it was again rallied; and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, second only to Gen. Lee in ability, was placed in command.
“At midnight, May 3, 1864, the 2nd Division, 4th Army Corps, broke camp and marched in the direction of Dalton, Georgia. At daylight on the 7th, our advance encountered the outposts of the enemy; and some brisk skirmishing ensued. Lines of battle were formed and skirmishers thrown out; but the enemy gave way and we advanced to the vicinity of Tunnel Hill. The enemy occupied Rocky Face Ridge, a bold, rocky ridge with almost perpendicular sides, sparsely covered with oak timber.
“In the evening our brigade formed and marched over toward the ridge where we remained all night. In the morning we ascended the ridge, and moved along the crest about one mile south. It would be difficult to imagine there was less opportunity for maneuvering troops than was here presented by the one now occupied by the enemy. The side of the ridge on their left was nearly perpendicular, and was utterly inaccessible, and the right was protected by a ragged and irregular projection in the ridge, beyond which no human being would dare venture without being dashed to pieces by a fall upon the rocks below. The 3rd Brigade occupied the crest of the ridge, which in many places was barely wide enough to admit passage of artillery. Skirmishing was now going on constantly on the ridge, and at 5 o’clock P.M., Harker’s brigade assaulted the rebel fort, supported on the left by our brigade. The attempt was fruitless; our troops were repulsed. The 57th was under fire but not in a position to inflict any damage on the enemy, and fell back with the brigade.
“On Wednesday, the 11th, we were relieved by the 1st Brigade and fell back, camping on the western slope of the ridge. On the following day, we arose at 3 o’clock A.M.. The entire division abandoned its position on the ridge and moved into the valley below. On Friday morning, we discovered that the enemy had evacuated his line in front of Dalton, and was on the retreat south. Orders were now received to push forward to Dalton.
Battle of Resaca
“At daybreak on Saturday the 14th, we were on the move. The roads were narrow, the country covered with a dense forest, and the progress slow. The advance was continued through fields and forests until we neared the line of the enemy’s fortifications, when they opened with artillery. The battle now raged dreadfully. Volley’s of musketry rolled like a vast flame, mingled with deafening cheers and the roar of artillery, as battery after battery came into position. Our division halted and threw up works in the rear of the forces already engaged. Our little command attempted to relieve the men ahead who needed assistance. We emerged from the border of a heavy wood, through which we had been moving, and came out in full view of the scene. A small field, not exceeding two hundred yards in width, lay between us and the line held by our men. We passed rapidly across the field and ascended the slope beyond. The ground near the line of works was thickly strewn with the killed and wounded. Many of the latter were struggling and calling piteously for help as they lay in the broiling sun, weltering in their own blood. It was a shocking sight.
“Once beyond the line, we laid down not more than fifty yards from the rebel works, with our feet up hill and our heads down. No sooner had we commenced firing from the advance position than the enemy poured into us a deadly volley of musketry, and in a few moments let fly at us with grape and canister. From this moment I have but a confused recollection of what happened for some time. The contents of the rebel cannon, loaded with canister-shot entered the ground just by my head, throwing the gravel and dirt in every direction, filling my eyes, nose, and mouth; and severely stunning me on the forehead. Before I could recover my self-possession, another shot grazed my right leg and passed through the leg of a comrade, who was lying by my side, mangling it dreadfully. In a few moments I heard the voice of the captain calling me, and discovered that the company was falling back beyond the line over which we had advanced. Calling for a detail of four men, I carried their guns and my own while they carried the wounded man about a mile, where we found an ambulance.
Death of Our Commander
“There were probably few officers connected with the army who were more solicitous or took a deeper interest in every movement in which their command should participate than did Colonel Lennard. Immediately after the last change of position, the colonel advanced to the open ground in front, dismounted, and was engaged in conversation for several minutes with Gen. Newton and other officers concerning the disposition of the regiment. The consultation over, he turned to go back to the regiment; and just as he was in the act of mounting his horse, a shell from the enemy passed through his right knee, shattering it to pieces and mangling it horribly. In a few moments, stretchers were provided upon which to bear away the body of the colonel.
“Gloom and sadness took possession of every man as he was borne back to take his farewell of the men who had almost learned to love him. ‘Now take good care of the boys, major,’ were the last words he ever said in hearing of the command. Gen. Wagner, when he heard of the fall of the colonel, was deeply moved, and was afterwards heard to say he had lost his best man.
“Soon afterwards the colonel was carried to a house three quarters of a mile in the rear. At his own request, a pallet was made on the floor, and on that he was placed. The wound produced a wonderful shock on his system, and yet there was no reaction. From the first he seemed to realize his true situation, and when in conversation with the surgeons spoke coolly and calmly of his wound. He was anxious that amputation should take place just as soon as the system revived. Several hours elapsed from the time he was wounded until the attending surgeon discovered that instead of surviving he was growing weaker. In the meantime, he was engaged in conversation on various subjects.
“He spoke of his experience in the army, and especially since he became connected with the regiment. Then his thoughts would turn toward his family. He requested that his wife might be sent for to come and take care of him; wondering if his little children would always be good children. He spoke of the tender affection which existed between him and his companions, and talked only as a brave man could, who was so near the hour of dissolution.
“Night was now fast approaching and a fire of pine knots was kindled on the hearth. About 7 o’clock the surgeon informed the attendant that the colonel would probably never survive; and that he had better speak to him of his danger. When told that he could hardly survive, and that he might die at any moment, his pale features lighted up with a smile as he calmly said, ‘What, so soon.’ Continuing, he said, ‘It is necessary for me to make the sacrifice, and I male it cheerfully, here I am in Georgia, away from my pleasant home, away from my wife and dear little children. Tonight they don’t know that I am dying by the fire of these pine knots.
“He had given up his regiment. Now he gave up his family, and began to talk of the solemn realities of death. He remarked that he was never a believer in death-bed repentances, and that it was the duty of every one to prepare for death in time of health. One of the surgeons, a pious man, prayed with him and told him that Jesus died to save him and would here his prayer. Up to the last moment, the colonel continued to speak of his soul’s salvation and entreated those around him to not postpone the greatest duty of our lives. Before he died, he gave evidence to those around him that he was willing to go, and that he should pass from labor to reward. To the last he was calm and collected. Even the terrors of death did not move him, and he met the grim monster without a shudder. Peace to the ashes of George W. Lennard.
“When night came on, the regiment advanced near to the spot where our colonel fell, and threw up a line of earthworks. At daylight, a lively cannonade commenced. Our position was in full view from the hill occupied by the rebel artillery and for a while they seemed determined to drive us off; but our own guns did nobly, and we soon had the satisfaction of seeing the enemy’s guns silenced. At noon on Sunday, the 57th took up a position in the line relieving the 40th Indiana. A continual fire was kept up until night, and during the afternoon the regiment fired 40,000 rounds of ammunition. After dark we withdrew from the front, and other troops took our place. As we passed over the field the next morning, our eyes beheld a most shocking spectacle. Many men were killed between the lines and their bodies burned to a crisp. In many cases the limbs were dreadfully contorted, and in some instances the fingers were clinched as if the unfortunate victims had suffered ten thousand deaths.
“Orders were received to move forward immediately and our corps at once joined the pursuit. In their retreat across the Oostanaula River at Resaca, the enemy failed in an attempt to burn the bridge and our troops passed over it early in the day. The rear-guard of the enemy skirmished with our advance, but were driven from every position. Two miles south of Kingston, Georgia, the rebel army made preparations to meet us in an open field fight. For the first time the prospect bade fair that these two powerful armies would grapple in deadly conflict on fair ground, and each one was drawn up in battle array, prepared for a great struggle.
“Slowly our long columns exited from the forests and moved into line on the open field which lay in front of the rebel position. For miles, two long lines of Federal blue, with banners fluttering in the breeze and the rays of the sun flashing on musket and cannon, reached far away to the right. The position of our brigade was on the extreme left of the 4th Corps, with a portion of the 57th deployed as skirmishers in front of the line of battle. At the sound of the bugle, 50,000 men sprang to their places in the line, and as promptly commenced moving forward when the advance was sounded. But the enemy dared not risk the consequences of a battle in the open field, and when our columns moved forward, they disappeared into the forest and retreated across the Etowah River. The next position of the rebel army was behind their defenses at Altoona Mountain. But it was no part of the plan of General Sherman to sacrifice the lives of ten or fifteen thousand men in a desperate assault on every stronghold of which the enemy took advantage.
“The Federal Army remained inactive until May 23rd.”
(northern Georgia, May, 1864)
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.