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Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#22)
Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign Continues: Engagements at Pine Mountain and Lost Mountain.

Monday evening, May 24th, the 4th Corps (including the 57th Indiana) crossed the Etowah River by a substantial bridge which had been seized from the enemy by our cavalry, and continued its march to the rear of the rebel position at Altoona Mountain.

In due time Gen. Joseph Johnston divined the strategic movement by which Sherman was intending to reach his rear, and he immediately made preparations to confront us and thwart the purpose of our commander. In the heavy forests, two miles north of Dallas, the point at which Sherman was aiming, the enemy were posted in force. They had erected earth-works and made every possible preparation to stop the progress of our army.

Nevertheless, Gen. Hooker continued to advance, driving the rebel forces before him. Before dark he drove them from the creek, saved the bridge, and compelled them to fall back upon their main line. Hooker’s troops were now relieved by the 4th Corps which advanced and formed lines in close proximity to the enemy. The night was cool and rainy, and the pickets on each side seemed disposed to remain quiet.

On the 27th at 10:00 am, Gen Wagner (Brigade Commander) ordered the 57th to advance in front of our works, deploy one wing of the regiment, and drive the enemy inside their works and keep them there. Accordingly, the left wing consisting of companies H, F, G, and C, commanded by Major McGraw, advanced as directed, pushed the enemy back into their entrenchments, and held a position within forth yards of their line. A constant fire was kept up from behind tress, logs, and such shelter as could be found in the timber. About noon the right wing moved forward and relieved the left wing which was now nearly out of ammunition. In this skirmish the regiment lost three men killed and twenty-four wounded, some of them mortally and nearly all the others severely. Our position was so close to the enemy that every shot which took effect was almost invariably serious. The command sustained a great loss in the death of our regimental ward-master, Alex Massy. Regardless of his own safety, he was making an effort to get a wounded comrade to the rear when he was shot through by a rebel ball; which entered the breast-bone and passed between the lungs, coming out at the back.

Two nights later, the enemy made a desperate assault on our lines but was repulsed with heavy loss. We were constantly harassed by night-alarms, and almost every night we were called into line a number of times. No man was allowed to take off his accoutrements when he laid down.

Friday, June 10th, found us once more on the move southward. Brisk skirmishing ensued between our advance and the rear guard of the rebels. At dark they had been forced back to their first line of defense, north of Pine Mountain. That night the pickets of the 57th threw up barricades within forty yards of the rebel rifle-pits. When day dawned we discovered that their works were evacuated, and no enemy in sight. The rebels had fallen back to a strong line of entrenchments extending from Pine Mountain on the left to Lost Mountain on the right.

The 4th Corps advanced in the center, Hooker on the right, and McPherson on the left. Soon after, Gen. Oliver Howard (4th Corps Commander) visited the outposts, dismounted from his horse and, taking two men from Company H, advanced some distance beyond the line, to reconnoiter the position of the enemy. At 8:00 pm that same night, the brigade was massed in double column. Regiments formed in columns by division. In the rear of us the other regiments of the brigade were formed in similar manner; and the whole corps, containing nine brigades, was to support our advance. We were ordered to leave everything behind except accoutrements and canteens. Gen. Sherman had decided to break the center of the rebel lines between Pine and Lost mountains, and the 4th Corps was designated for the attack.

At 5:00 am, Col. Blanch turned to the 57th and said, ‘Men of the 57th, we are directed by order of Gen. Sherman to attack the enemy in their works and drive them out with the bayonet. No man is to fire a gun as we advance upon the works. I have the assurance from Gen. Sherman that our assault will be supported, and that the works will be carried.’ The line of battle charged them, capturing some prisoners from whom we ascertained that the position of the rebel forces was such that the assault would undoubtedly prove a failure.

We continued making gradual approaches to the enemy’s line until the night of June 16th when the rebels again withdrew and occupied another line, running from the NE to the SW, which entirely loosened their hold on Lost Mountain. This movement caused the troops of the 4th and 20th Corps to make a half-wheel to the left, where we once more confronted them in their first line of Kennesaw Mountain.

It had been raining almost constantly for 24 hours and our position was anything else than pleasant. At daylight the rain again commenced falling, which continued until noon. The trenches were fast filling with water and it became necessary for us to move in some direction. The 57th, without further delay, rose in the trenches, scaled the works, and advanced on the double-quick, crossed the creek, where the water was nearly waist deep, raised a yell, charged the rifle-pits, and captured nearly the whole of the line in front of the regiment. This all was accomplished inside two minutes from the time of leaving our works. Had the enemy known our real force, they could easily have driven us back by a flank movement; but every man was ordered to yell like a demon and shoot with all his might. They doubtless supposed we were in force. During the skirmish, Lt. B. F. Beitzel of Company C was killed. He had started to move over to the right to request the skirmishers of Wood’s division to advance and support our movements in that direction. Fearlessly he started on his perilous duty. Another officer called to him and cautioned him to be careful or those gray-backs up there might hit him to which he replied, ‘Oh, they’re not afraid of me’ and passed on. But a moment later, just as we were called to charge, he fell dead. He was a brave and good officer, and his death was a loss to our regiment and our state.

Thursday, June 23rd, found the 57th again at the front. One half of the regiment was thrown forward and occupied a line of rifle-pits, which were thrown up during the previous night by our Pioneers (engineers). About two hundred yards in the rear lay the balance of the regiment, behind a line of works, as a reserve. These gradual advances were always made in the evening, so that the ground which we held could be fortified at night.
Wearied by hard fighting and almost exhausted by exciting scenes of charges, our faces begrimed with powder and dirt, and the bottom of the pit dampened by the crimson stream of life that gurgled from a dying comrade, we wondered when the conflict would close.

In a series of brilliant movements executed by the western army, Gen. Sherman had succeeded in dislodging Johnston’s army from every position, whether on mountain top, on the hills, or in the valleys. So after six days of operations in front of Kennesaw Mountain, he resolved to make a bold strike, and, if successful, drive the enemy in confusion across the Chattahoochie River toward Atlanta. 

(Atlanta Campaign, northern Georgia, May-June, 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.

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