The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#20)
Reenlistment and Furlough
“One most important duty remained to be performed after the three days’ fighting near Chattanooga, before it could safely be said that a complete victory was gained by General Grant and his army. That duty was to send a force to Knoxville to assist General Burnside and compel the rebel General Longstreet to raise the siege of that place. No sooner had we buried our dead, and removed the wounded to where they would receive attention, than orders were issued to march immediately for Knoxville. There have been few instances during the war in which troops were as poorly prepared to undertake such a march as was our command at this time. For months, Chattanooga had been reduced almost to a state of siege, and such a vast amount of rations and forage was required that clothing could not be furnished fast enough to supply the demand.
“On the 28th of November, Sheridan’s division left Chattanooga, and took up the line of march for Knoxville. Three days’ rations were carried in the haversacks, which was to last us to the Hiawasse River, where steamers were to renew the supply. On Sunday, the 29th, we crossed the Chickamauga, near where it empties into the Tennessee, and marched thence by way of Harrison, where we camped for the night. On Tuesday evening we reached the Hiawasse The command succeeded in crossing safely and halted near the river until noon of the following day. At midnight, some rations of crackers and coffee were drawn from the steamer anchored in the river.
“Now commenced scenes of suffering and privation heretofore unknown in our experience. Our chief subsistence was parched corn and beef. Much of the time even that could not be obtained. There were many men whose shoes were so worn that their feet were exposed to the frozen ground. Some used old rages, tied around their feet, as a substitute for shoes. Occasionally a soldier might be seen no longer able to keep up even the appearance of shoes, and would start on the march with bare feet.
“On the 6th of December, after a fatiguing march of one hundred and forty miles in eight days, we reached the vicinity of Knoxville. Longstreet had learned the news of Bragg’s defeat (at Chattanooga); had made a desperate attempt to carry the works around the city, and was now on the retreat toward Bull’s Gap. Our division remained in camp, two miles south of Knoxville until the later part of December. Cold and dreary were the hours we passed as the wintry day wore on, calling to our minds the sufferings and privations endured by Washington’s army at Valley Forge.
“One ax was issued to each regiment at Knoxville, and that was barely sufficient, even when kept constantly in use to keep us in wood for building log-heap fires. All day the axes were ringing through the woods felling the timber with which we replenished our fires to keep from freezing. On the 29th of December, Orderly sergeant W. W. Sims arrived from Chattanooga with a large mail, which had been accumulating one month. In the midst of our comfortless surroundings, our hearts were made glad by the reception of tidings from the loved ones at home.
“The question of re-enlistment as veterans was thoroughly discussed during our stay. Recruiting officers were appointed and vigorous efforts were made to have three-fourths of the regiment re-enlist. General Wagner addressed the regiment, and, in the course of his remarks, stated that he knew no other way in which the men could get away from Tennessee and from the sufferings which they then endured than by re-enlisting and taking a furlough to Indiana.
“On the 25th of January, the command arrived in London, on the Tennessee River, eighty miles from Chattanooga. Orders were now issued declaring the campaign ended. About the time of our arrival at London, the fever of re-enlistment was raging high, and in a very short time more than three-fourths of the number present with the 57th were again enlisted for ‘three years or during the war.’ On the 28th the regiment, numbering one hundred and twenty-eight men, left the front for Chattanooga, there to be regularly mustered out and receive their furlough of thirty days at home. After almost three years of uninterrupted service in the field, it was with feelings of sorrow that we parted with the old flag that was stained with the smoke of Shiloh, set on fire by the bursting shells at Stones River, and led the advances in the assault at Missionary Ridge.
“Leaving Chattanooga on the 27th, the regiment was transported by rail to Indianapolis where it arrived on the 3rd of March. On the 4th the regiment received a hearty reception by the citizens and was presented to a large audience by Governor Morton in a complimentary address, of which the following was the opening sentence:
‘Fellow citizens of Indianapolis, permit me to introduce to you the 57th Regiment Indiana Volunteers; the men who led the advance of our troops at the storming of Missionary Ridge.’
Colonel Lennard responded on behalf of the regiment. On the following day, the men were furloughed to their homes, there to receive the greetings and congratulations of their relatives and friends.
“Important changes were going on in higher circles during the period over which we passed so rapidly deserves mention here. Our dashing and popular division commander, General Sheridan, received the appointment as Chief of Cavalry in the Union Army, and was succeeded by General John Newton (right), from the Army of the Potomac.
Major General O. O. Howard (right), who by his Christian deportment combined with the duties of a military calling, had been assigned to the command of the 4th Corps, relieving General Gordon Granger. Another important change in commanders had also occurred. Scripturally speaking, ‘the stone which the builders rejected’ was now to become ‘the head of the corner,’ for General W. T. Sherman, having recovered from the condition in which he was reported, assumed command of a large and well-equipped army. and commenced his ‘march to the sea.’
“Extensive preparations were now being made for the approaching campaign. On Monday, April 11th, the 57th left Indianapolis, and proceeded by rail to Nashville, where it arrived on the 14th. It left Nashville on the 16th to march to Chattanooga, where it arrived April 30th, remaining till May 3rd. Then it marched to join the old brigade at Catoosa Springs, Georgia, arriving on the evening of May 5th.
The Atlanta Campaign was about to begin.
(Tennessee and Indiana, December 1863 - April, 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.