The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#23)
June 27, 1864.
Sherman’s Army stands facing Kennesaw Mountain, northwest of the City of Atlanta . . .
“Newton’s division was the one assigned by Gen. Howard (Corps Commander) to make the assault in front of the 4th Corps, and at the point designated was in front of Stanley’s division. At 7 o’clock A.M. our brigade formed and marched over to the rear of the line where the attack was to be made. Gen. Wagner (Brigade Commander) gave Col. Blanch (Regiment Commander) his choice of position; either to join in the column or deploy his regiment as skirmishers and move up in front of the column. Col. Blanch chose the latter, and at once deployed the regiment five paces apart, preparatory to an advance.
“The 40th Indiana occupied the front of the assaulting column. At 8 o’clock A.M. the signal was given to advance. Our regiment crossed the works, and drove the rebel skirmishers into their fortifications. The enemy reserved their artillery fire till the 40th advanced to within a short distance of their works, had raised the yell, and were moving forward on the double-quick, when they opened a withering fire of grape and canister, which carried death and destruction in its pathway. The assaulting party was checked and the men laid down.
“Other regiments were now thrown forward, and the assault was several times renewed, but all in vain. The order was given to fall back by companies from the rear, but in the confusion and excitement it was misunderstood, and a general retreat commenced. The slaughter among our troops at this moment was even greater than when they advanced, for the enemy now rose from behind their works, fearless of danger from the retreating force, and fired with greater precision than when the column advanced.
In one hour the engagement was over, and our brigade again returned to their former position, behind the line of works. The 57th lost twenty-two in this bloody and almost fruitless engagement. The assault, though it secured no immediate victory, was evidence to the enemy that we could assault as well as flank, and thus prevent them from weakening their lines to extend their flanks.
“On the 28th, the regiment was again on the skirmish line In many places, when there was quiet along the lines, the men on each side would expose themselves to view, and even exchanged papers, traded coffee for tobacco, and bartered in various ways. This, however, was soon brought to a close by an order from Gen. Sherman; prohibiting all communication with the enemy.
“On the night of the 28th, Col. Blanch, by request, held a consultation between the lines with the colonel of the 5th Arkansas, rebel regiment, who offered to let us remove the dead of our regiment still remaining on neutral ground. But Gen. Howard believed it was only done to throw us off our guard, in order that they could make a night attack, and nothing was done.
“The resolution which Gen. Sherman had formed, of driving the enemy across the Chattahoochie River, was not changed by the failure of this assault; and on the night of July 2nd he commenced to lengthen his lines. When the day dawned, no rebel flag floated from the crest of Kennesaw, for Johnston, preferring to expose the front rather than leave his rear unprotected, had abandoned his position and moved toward the river. Pursuit was commenced immediately. The 4th Corps, marching to Marietta, moved from there down the railroad. The enemy made a temporary halt behind a line of works near the Smyrna campground, about five miles south of Marietta. Our line of battle was formed, and we remained in position all day during the 4th. An occasional artillery duel or sharp picket firing was all that transpired on the lines, and at night the enemy withdrew.
“We reached Vining’s Station, at the crossing of the Chattahoochie, a little past noon, and went into camp east of the railroad. From a hill near camp we could plainly see the steeples of Atlanta, twelve miles distant. Between us and the city was the smoke of rebel camps and heavy clouds of dirt disclosed the position of troops in motion along the road.
“On the 9th of July, Gen. Sherman commenced moving his army across the river. At daylight a force of cavalry crossed at Roswell, a small town sixteen miles east of Vining’s Station, and held a position south of the river, until the arrival of our division which marched up from camp and forded just after dark. We threw up entrenchments, and remained in position until the 11th, when we were relieved by the 16th Corps. On the 13th the division crossed on a bridge of canvas pontoons, and joined the corps, which was then in line on a commanding ridge, three miles from the river. On the 18th, at 5 o’clock A.M., we moved from our fortified camp and took the road leading to Atlanta.
“On the next day the enemy was driven across Peachtree Creek by Wood’s division, which crossed at night and threw up a line of works on the south bank of the stream. In the morning they were relieved by our division. Skirmishing was constantly going on between our front line and the enemy, who were posted behind a strong line of rifle pits, on higher ground at the edge of the timber. Artillery was brought forward and commenced shelling them. Their position soon became unpleasant from the fire of our guns, and at 2 o’clock they fell back toward Atlanta.
“Notwithstanding the masterly skill displayed by confederate Gen. Johnston during the eventful campaign which followed the movement of our army from Chattanooga, the rebel authorities at Richmond were not satisfied with his declaration that he could not hold Atlanta with the army under his command; and they at once appointed Gen. John Bell Hood to succeed him.
“We are now about to record the commencement of a series of daring and reckless attempts, made by a true representative of hot-blooded “southern chivalry,” to stay the irresistible progress of a large and victorious army. The engagement at Peach Tree Creek would be the turning point for the overthrow and destruction of the rebel army in Georgia. By his wild infatuation, amounting to madness, southern blood would flow like water, and the sacrifice of human lives was a consideration far beneath Hood. The disastrous results of his unmitigated cruelty will stand out in bold relief among the prominent events of our late war, as proof of what a ‘piece of work’ of a man could do.”
(Atlanta Campaign, northern Georgia, June -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.