The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#24)
Peachtree Creek - Outside Atlanta
“The surface of the country where our army was now operating was broken and somewhat hilly. The sluggish waters of a narrow creek, enclosed in a deep channel, wound its way across the field in an irregular, zigzag course. A short distance south of where the road running from Buckhead to Atlanta crosses the stream it enters a dense forest and leads almost due south to the city. On the afternoon of July 20th, when the enemy had disappeared into the woods, our division moved up and formed a line of battle at the north side of the creek, with the line of Wagner’s brigade extending into the timber.
“General Thomas directed General Newton to send forward one regiment, have them advance nearly half a mile on the Atlanta road, then deploy, face to the south-east, and move forward to the creek to ascertain whether the enemy had any force in the vicinity. General Newton designated the 57th and Col. Blanch to immediately proceed to carry out his instructions.
“The regiment advanced cautiously to the position indicated, but found no sign of an enemy, and the command halted. We were now nearly one mile from our lines, in the midst of a dense forest, alone and unsupported. Col. Blanch desired to become more fully acquainted with the appearance of things in front; and deeming it imprudent to advance the whole regiment farther, he called for one man from each company to go forward with him and reconnoiter.
“They moved out several hundred yards beyond the regiment before they discovered any of the enemy. A single rebel soldier, who had been sent out to watch for the approach of our pickets, caught sight of Sergeant Vert of Company “F,” and was just in the act of firing on him, when he was hailed by a member of Company “C,” who had already discovered him and had drawn a bead at the head of the “Johnny.” They demanded him to surrender, and while one held his gun ready to fire, the other advanced and took charge of is rifle, which was delivered without further ceremony. He was asked how far it was to their lines and whether they were in force. But he declined to give any other answer than that there were enough there for us, and if we wanted to know any more we could go and see. The captured rebel was then started for the rear, under guard.
“In only a few moments, the forces of the enemy in our front raised a yell, which was taken up and repeated along their lines for fully half a mile, and revealed the fact that they were advancing in heavy force. In a few moments they came in sight of our reconnoitering party, who fired on them and fell back to the regiment, which now beat a hasty retreat; occasionally halting long enough to be certain that the enemy were in pursuit.
“When the noise of the coming attack could no longer be misunderstood, General Thomas made every possible preparation to give them a warm reception. Artillery was promptly placed in position, and the main body of troops was ordered to hold their position. ‘What has become of the regiment you sent out?’ inquired Gen. Thomas of Gen. Newton. ‘They’re out there yet sir,’ he replied. ‘Well, they will all be captured,’ returned Thomas, who was not aware of the activity which the 57th was just about to show.
“When the regiment had fallen back to the abandoned rifle pits from which the enemy had been driven earlier, the order was given to rally and hold. But it was soon discovered that we would be exposed to the fire of our own artillery, and again the order was given to retreat beyond the creek. A few, failing to hear the order, remained and were taken prisoner. Even in the creek, Maj. McGraw insisted that it was ‘a good place to make a stand;’ but the majority concluded it was rather a watery position, and so passed over to the north bank. As we passed up the ravine among the willows, we saw a column waving a dirty rebel flag over the pits we had just left.
“ ‘Here come the wet dogs,’ said General Thomas, as we came up dripping with water after wading the stream waist deep, and some even swimming in the deepest places. We passed to the left of our brigade, in falling back; and before we were all across the creek, the front lines were hotly engaged with the enemy.
“The battle raged with awful fury. The 20th Corps, which joined us on the right, met them on open ground with a bayonet charge, held the ground, and drove them back. The enemy attempted to cross the creek in our front but; with the help of the artillery, we succeeded on keeping them back. At dark the battle ceased, and the rebels withdrew from the field. The 57th retained its position on the creek, and during the night constructed a line of works. The work of death was terrible at the rebel front, where the dead of the enemy lay in heaps. The rebel General Stevens was killed in front of the 40th Indiana, and his saddle and holsters were taken by one of that regiment.
“During the next day we threw up strong works. In the afternoon a small force was sent forward to reconnoiter, and found the enemy entrenched half a mile off. On the 22nd (July) we moved forward and discovered that they had now fallen back behind the main line of defenses, two miles from the city. At 3 o’clock the rebel batteries opened on us and gave us a severe shelling until night. How anxious we were until we learned that our forces succeeded in repelling the second onset of John Bell Hood’s army.
“By the death of General McPherson, the Army of the Tennessee lost their commander; and our General Howard was selected by General Sherman to succeed him. General David Stanley, commanding the 1st Division, succeeded General Howard in the command of our 4th Corps.
“Cavalry expeditions were sent out to destroy the road and public buildings; in which they were successful in every respect. Having destroyed the rebel communications with Augusta, General Sherman next decided to withdraw the Army of the Tennessee and transfer it to the extreme right of his position. Soon after the troops had taken position on the right, the enemy made another desperate attempt to break their lines; but the attack was repulsed with smaller loss on our part than on the 22nd. In his official report, General Howard estimated the loss of the enemy in this engagement at 6,000 and our own loss at 600, all told.
“Thus it was that, by a series of unsuccessful and fool-hardy assaults against our lines, Hood lost in three days not less than 15,000 of his best men, and when his last gun was fired we were virtually stronger than when he dealt the first blows. General Sherman gave orders to ‘make the works impregnable.’
“Now commenced in earnest the siege of Atlanta.”
(Atlanta Campaign, northern Georgia, late July, 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.